Rauner’s Historical Accountability Fellows Examine Race, Disability and Intersectionality at Dartmouth

by Sarah Alpert | 2/8/19 2:25am

If you have ever been inside Rauner Special Collections Library, then you have gazed up at the four glass stories towering over that lovely, sun-lit hall, and probably wondered what they contain. Among other incredible things, the stacks at Rauner hold extensive archives from Dartmouth history: letters, memos, photographs and personal narratives from past students and employees of the College. 

Starting in 2018, as part of Dartmouth’s plan for Inclusive Excellence, Rauner invited student fellows to research issues of diversity and inclusivity in these archives, unveiling stories from Dartmouth’s past to inform how the current generation of students and staff shape the future of our school. 

Myranda Fuentes, the Institutional History Research Specialist at Rauner, explained that the Historical Accountability Student Research Fellowship grew out of the earlier Rauner Student Research Fellowship, which produced “amazing projects” involving Dartmouth’s struggles with diversity and inclusion. Those earlier projects inspired Rauner librarians to continue digging for untold histories in the stacks.

“Everyone in the library is super dedicated to these stories, just as part of being an ethical archivist and being an ethical librarian,” Fuentes said. “What does it mean to get different stories out there, to get different information out there that’s not necessarily accessed or not necessarily the main narrative? [The Rauner Library staff] wanted to do that through this fellowship program.”

Fuentes sounded optimistic about the College’s desire to engage critically with its past, especially through programs like the Historical Accountability fellowship.

“This is actually quite unique, because they’re not begrudgingly doing it. As an institution, it seems like Dartmouth is ready to kind of grapple with a lot of its historical problems, like its issues with sexism, racism, anti-Semitism, all those things. It’s really ready to talk about those things, to be able to build a more ethical future.”

Right now, there are three students participating in the Historical Accountability fellowship: Anneliese Thomas ’19, Samantha Koreman ’20, and Alexandrea Kieth ’20. Samantha Koreman is researching the history of disability and accessibility at Dartmouth. “What that means,” Koreman elaborated, “is there were certain pieces of legislation that were passed at different times throughout the College’s existence that required colleges to make certain changes to their infrastructure and their programs, to make college more accessible for people with physical disabilities.” 

While legislation has also reformed colleges’ treatment of learning disabilities, Koreman’s study focuses on physical impairments, including mobility, sight and hearing. 

During the course of her research in Rauner, Koreman has been struck by the mix of good and bad in Dartmouth’s history of addressing accessibility issues. On the one hand, Koreman describes how “awesome” Dartmouth professors are, and how they have tried to help differently-abled students in any way possible.

“There were a series of self-reflections due in the late 1970s and a series due in the late 1980s. Departments talked about how amazing their differently-abled students were, and how they really overcame a lot to accommodate those students,” Koreman said. 

At the same time, many buildings on campus, especially humanities buildings, remained (or still remain) inaccessible for many years.

“Reed Hall, Thornton and Dartmouth Hall were impossible to get into with sort of any physical impairment,” Koreman said, “to the point that I think the French department said one time that someone who had a broken wrist couldn’t open the door to the building.” 

Koreman explained that while Dartmouth has always favored improving accessibility, the administration often underestimated how much money was required to make changes around campus. She summarized the situation: “In general, the College tried to do the best that it could, without giving resources to it financially … Their party line has always been, ‘We will try to do the best that we can,’ which I feel, reading a lot of internal documents from people, is pretty accurate.” 

In terms of professor and administration attitudes toward differently-abled students, Koreman called the situation a “mixed bag,” including some experiences with accommodations and other “not-so-great moments for the College.”

When she completes her research, Koreman plans to write a long paper about the history of accessibility at Dartmouth, which she hopes will impact the College’s future engagement with this issue.

“I would just urge the College to look at it as more than a numbers game,” Koreman said, “and think about how they can they can provide equal opportunity for each of their students.”

She added that she thinks it is not always easy to realize what a disabled student’s experience is like and conversations with students of different abilities can go a long way.

In the meantime, Koreman has one request – that the heavy, difficult-to-open doors to Wilder Hall be replaced with more accessible ones. 

“I feel like there’s a lot of small things that the College can do if it just kind of looks towards what’s affecting people on a daily basis,” Koreman said. She hopes that her project will help accelerate these improvements to accessibility on campus.

Meanwhile, Thomas is researching the black experience at Dartmouth looking specifically at the papers of Errol Hill, the first tenured African American professor at Dartmouth.

“Dartmouth has a very interesting history with black students,” Thomas said. “We were one of the first American universities to admit one. Edward Mitchell graduated in 1828, so really ahead of the curve, and you also hear a lot of the anti-apartheid movement in the ’80s. But I was interested in learning more about what [was] happening during the actual Civil Rights movement, when the country was going through a lot of changes with the African American community.”

Rauner has the oral histories of Richard Joseph ’65, who connected Malcolm X to campus. Thomas was excited to discover descriptions of how Joseph made eye contact with Martin Luther King, Jr. during his speech at Dartmouth. 

“Seeing that these really influential Civil Rights figures had actually been here was something that was really cool and really surreal,” Thomas said.

Thomas wanted to get involved in the Historical Accountability fellowship because she had previous experiences at Rauner for two classes, Sociology 11, “Research Methods” and a Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies class about the “Me Too” movement, as well as for the Public Service Legacy Project.   “I’d really been fascinated by finding all these old artifacts, old papers, so I wanted to do more in Rauner,” Thomas said.

When Thomas completes her research, she plans to make a digital exhibit to showcase important headlines and artifacts, which she hopes will help educate people on the history of African Americans at Dartmouth and “[make] them more aware of what campus was like.” Thomas finds this especially important as the College celebrates its 250th anniversary, considering that for many of those years, Dartmouth struggled with issues of diversity and race.

Rauner’s third Historical Accountability Research Fellow, Alexandrea Kieth, is working on intersectionality in the early 20th century. Although she originally wanted to focus on intersectional women at Dartmouth, the archives simply didn’t have enough material to support 10 weeks of research on that topic.

Fuentes noted, “[Keith’s] project is a good example of how a silence in the archive, and us not having documents, actually speaks for itself in a way that’s really poignant.” This silence illuminates the absence of intersectional women in Dartmouth’s history, and, Fuentes hopes, can “[get] students thinking about how you, in the present, as a Dartmouth student, [are] archivable, even if you don’t think about yourself in that way.”

Fuentes believes that research into unexplored Dartmouth histories not only connects current students to the College’s past, but also encourages students to contemplate their own role in shaping Dartmouth, present and future. Fuentes said, one day, current students’ own records might add to Rauner’s living collection of Dartmouth archives. Every story matters.