Recent history of campus activism documented through online archive

By Kylie Gurewitz

In November of 2015, the campus group Advocates for Institutional Change (AIC) led a walkout of approximately 450 students, demanding change for the University’s alleged racial injustices. Though this protest may seem remarkable, having attracted such a significant percentage of the campus population, the demands of the group were not at all unprecedented. “Honoring the Histories and Experiences of Racial Minorities of the University of Puget Sound” was the original independent study conducted by Puget Sound alumni Nakisha Renee Jones and Daniel Akamine when they were students in 2016. It has since grown into a Collins Library archive on activism on the Puget Sound campus. The archive is now being continued by Puget Sound senior, Rachel Greiner. The Trail sat down with Rachel Greiner to learn more about the process of archiving this walkout and the recent history of activism on campus.

Greiner has continued the work of DOC Activism, which refers to the Documentation and Historiography of Student Activism at the University of Puget Sound. This project was started by Puget Sound alumni Nakisha Renee Jones and Daniel Akamine. Jones and Akamine created a digital archive as a part of Collins Library to document campus activism. It is specifically focused on the experience of students of color at Puget Sound. A video titled “Narrative of Our Project” features Jones and Akamine explaining the inspiration for the project. “As we began to talk, we began to notice trends … a broad variety of students of color here experience being minoritized or discriminated against,” Akamine said in the video. “The trajectory of the experiences has spanned a lot of years and many decades but the notion of not feeling at home is still the same,” Jones added. This notion of repeated patterns of racism, as well as the lack of documentation of this experience, led to the project of examining student activism on campus. Jones described The Trail as one of the only sources of archived campus documentation over the years, but also acknowledged that the objective approach of journalism leaves little space for subjective recounting of personal experiences by people of color. “That’s part of why our work is going to be so much more important,” Jones concluded.

Though Jones and Akamine began this project of archiving, the archive is a living document, updated by Greiner. She is focusing on updating the archive of the 2015 AIC walkout. Greiner explained that the AIC came about in response to, and in solidarity with, the activism at Mizzou and other colleges in early November 2015 advocating for racial justice at college campuses around the country. AIC met and developed a list of 12 demands, which were read at the walkout alongside personal narratives that demonstrated the importance of this list. The list called for a new cultural center, for The Office of Admission to expand their focus on diversity, for more diversity in newly hired professors, and for the establishment of gender and queer studies (GQS) and Latino studies majors. It was during this time that more students became aware of similar demands that had been made by an on campus group called The Coalition Against Injustice and Racism.

“There was a similar list of demands that had been created about eight years before that nobody knew about,” Greiner said. This list of demands was a response to many experiences of racial injustice, but one event stood out: a “thug life” themed party in 2007. According to the archive, “Students dressed in black face and asked black students to borrow their gangster clothing.” A letter by the Black Student Union, which can also be viewed on the archive, listed 11 demands, the first of which was: “A resolution to the ‘thug life’ party.” Apart from that first demand, the next 10 contain poignant similarities to the demands of the AIC in 2015, calling for “more administration and faculty of color,” as well as “more ethnic studies programs,” and “advertisement of diversity groups to new, incoming, and applying students.” The similarity of the two lists and the lack of progress that had occurred between their creation prompted the AIC to document their activism. “People realized, we have to make sure that this information doesn’t get lost, so they created this archive,” Greiner said.

It’s harder than one might think to answer the question of whether or not these demands have been met. One demand was that the University build a new cultural center where Warner Gym is now. The University has since created the Social Justice Center on 13th street, “which is technically a temporary space; they told AIC that it was a temporary space, and they would build a larger one in the future. I don’t know if that’s going to happen,” Greiner said. Another request present in both lists of demands was a greater diversity of professors — AIC specifically mentioned more diverse professors in certain departments where it was felt that many identities were underrepresented. One of these departments was politics and government, and in this department, the students of AIC did not feel that their demand had been met. “They hired someone from Sweden, or Denmark, and we were kind of like, that’s not what we asked for?” Greiner said.

One demand regarding additions to campus tours, which would inform prospective students of identity-based student groups, offer tours in a variety of languages, and notifies the tour of the nearest gender-neutral bathrooms, seems to have received some amount of accommodation, but has not completely met the demands of the AIC. Another demand asked for gender and queer studies and Latino studies to become majors, which has not happened though many are pushing for it. African American studies has become a major, fulfilling a demand from the 2008 list, and it is worth noting that the AIC demand asks for GQS and Latino studies to be guided “through the same framework toward becoming a major as established by African American Studies.”

Although it has yet to be granted by the administration, this request exemplifies the kind of activism that this archive hopes to provide a resource toward: growth by understanding the history of change on this campus. The nature of the college campus’ constantly fluctuating student body allows for activism to easily disappear upon leaders’ graduation, but if a detailed record exists to inform the student body of its own history of activism, it opens the possibility for students to make continued progress. The archive can be viewed at research.pugetsound.edu/activism.

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