By Lae’l Hughes-Watkins
University Archivist, University of Maryland, College Park
“I am a mediator between what has been and what is yet to come.”
Klamath Henry, Emory University graduate, Project STAND panelist (February 21, 2019)
October 19-20, Project STAND held its third national symposium at Chicago State University. On the second day, Charles Preston, a student activist, and panelist spoke about being on the front lines of the fight to keep Chicago State University open in 2016. If it were not for the efforts of Preston and colleagues Parris Griffin, Christopher Glenn, and their other allies (predominantly students), the university would have likely closed. The closure would have left over 4,000 students with a challenging path toward the completion of their education, a massive void in the community, staff, and faculty job losses, along with countless dreams deferred.
During Preston’s panel, he, Griffin and Glenn, recounted #BudgetorElse campaign, the hashtag itself could not cover the emotional strain, trauma, and sheer determination that went on behind the scenes. The students lamented over sleepless nights, missed classes, lost friendships, impromptu meetings with Civil Rights leaders, intense interviews with the press, and multiple marches and protests. Preston impressed upon the crowd, the necessity of archiving student actions because they represent blueprints of resistance. Preston spoke to historians, archivists, and memory workers in the room on the value of the archive to students engaged in making a change within their institutions.
The student organizers outlined threads that were reminiscent of many experiences of activists that were protesting decades earlier on issues of injustice, like Historian Jason Ferreira. He was part of what has been deemed the longest student strike in American history—the San Francisco State College (SFSC) strike that lasted from November 6, 1968, to March 20, 1969. The protest came with the rise of anti-Vietnam War sentiment on campus and the demands of a Latinx and Asian American student population. The students wanted an institution that taught their histories and included a broader contingent from their communities. Ferreira recalls how most people had no idea of the sacrifice made by the student activists, “People did time. Relationships were stressed to the point of crumbling…” A coalition of students from varying underrepresented communities gathered to create the Third World Liberation Front and partnered with the Black Student Union, who had just won a battle to create a Black Studies program. These change agents risked their lives to garner the attention of university officials, as the campus swarmed with police. By the conclusion of the strike, SFSC administration established a College of Ethnic Studies and agreed to accept nearly all students of color for the fall semester of 1969.
Scholars and historians such as Dara Walker, Martha Biondi, Stefan Bradley, Ibram Kendi, have written fiercely on the role of student organizers from marginalized populations and how they have been critical to revolutions that have transformed academia. Kendi writes in Beholding Mizzou and the Power of Black Students that black student activists and their allies, “forced the institutionalization of Black Studies, Black cultural centers, and diversity offices—and their activism yielded an unprecedented rise in the numbers of Black students, faculty, staff, and administrators.”
What is the memory of an institution that does not include the totality of its evolution? Archivists/memory workers in academia are charged with documenting the history of their institutions. This record cannot include partial truths, dis-membered narratives, or censored identities because they lead to accounts steeped in slavery or segregationist policies of a University president. We must also advocate for the inclusion of the labor of students, specifically those within the tradition of historically underdocumented groups. These voices have challenged the discriminatory behavior that has led to the exclusion of the LGBTQ student population, the continuation of ableist practices, anti-blackness, anti-immigration sentiment, sexism, and other forms of bias and prejudice. The role of student movements in the creation of programs, departments, offices, and even how monuments have been erected or removed demands space in the archive. It is this overarching need that gave rise to Project STAND, a blueprint to engage in reparative archives.
Project STAND is a radical grassroots archival consortia project between colleges and universities around the country, working to create a centralized digital space highlighting analog and digital collections emphasizing student activism in marginalized communities. Project STAND aims to foster ethical documentation of contemporary and past social justice movements in vulnerable student populations. STAND also advocates for collections by collaborating with educators to provide pedagogical support, creating digital resources, hosting workshops, and forums for information professionals, academics, technologists, humanists, etc. interested in building communities with student organizers and their allies, leading to sustainable relationships, and inclusive physical and digital spaces of accountability, diversity, and equity.
Due to an Institute Museum Library Services (IMLS) grant awarded in 2018, we have held three forums across the country. The forums have provided a platform for student activists to discuss their labor, their personal archiving practices, concerns on ethics, and the archiving of social media. We have been able to carve out space for members in the profession and other practitioners to engage in discourse that challenges our archival traditions and previous frameworks for documenting student movements. We are now a coalition of nearly 70 colleges and universities, private and public, including HBCUs and community colleges. We have completed over 370 collection assessments. The assessments have provided details on a variety of areas, including which states have the highest number of collections on Latinx, African American, and LGBTQ records on student activism and Women’s rights, to who has the most significant physical holdings and digitized objects.
We are sharing ideas on building community within archives in academia; we are advocating for previously silenced histories, working to fill gaps in the record, and utilizing these resources to ignite conversations to support difficult conversations around complex histories.
Project STAND reaffirms social justice as an imperative within the archival praxis—this is our guiding principle; this is our blueprint!
 Karen Grisby Bates and Shereen Marisol Meraji. The Student Strike That Changed Higher Ed Forever. Code Switch. https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2019/03/21/704930088/the-student-strike-that-changed-higher-ed-forever