"SpeakOut" project to provide oral history of LGBTQIA community members


by Emily Sun | 10/31/18 3:00am

The Rauner Special Collections Library has partnered with the Dartmouth LGBTQIA+ Alum Association (DGALA) to launch SpeakOut, an oral history project in which faculty, alumni and students are interviewed regarding their experiences with the LGBTQIA+ community on campus. The interviews, conducted by a team of approximately 10 students, feature Dartmouth graduates ranging from the 1950s and 1960s to the most recent classes.

The first set of SpeakOut interviews are set to be released to the public in January 2019 as a part of the College’s 250th anniversary celebration, and more will follow, according to Birch. There are around 20 interviews in the Rauner archives waiting to be released at this point, though Birch hopes to add more.

“The goal of SpeakOut is to document the history of Dartmouth’s LGBTQIA+ community, and we want that history to be as multiperspective as we can get,” said Caitlin Birch, digital collections and oral history archivist at Rauner.

Birch noted that there is a lack of documentation that represents the experiences of LGBTQIA+ individuals in Dartmouth archives to date. She said that SpeakOut is “definitely looking to address some of those gaps in the archives.”

“Beyond just providing documentation for the College archives, we’re definitely trying to help [the LGBTQIA+] alumni community to remember the history that they lived at the College and to give them a foundation to go from in the future,” Birch said.

The idea for this project originated from the president of DGALA, Brendan Connell Jr. ’87, who was inspired after hearing about Rauner’s oral archives surrounding the Vietnam War.

“I realized that many of my colleagues were passing away without their stories being told,” Connell said.

Connell noted that SpeakOut is unique in the sense that it is not only a bridge between alumni and current students, but is also a form of reconciliation for some of alumni who once vowed to never have anything to do with the College again.

Caroline Casey ’21 is one of the student interviewers for SpeakOut. After being trained in oral history, Casey and the other students involved were assigned to conduct roughly one interview per term; other responsibilities include researching the background information of the interviewees and the College’s history.

“I personally got involved because I care,” Casey said. “I just think it’s really important to tell stories of people at Dartmouth who have definitely not always been heard.”

Birch said that the project also details the progression of the LGBTQIA+ community at the College as the pressure to live a closeted life decreases and students, faculty and staff make the campus a more inclusive place. However, she also added that there is much more to be worked on.

While SpeakOut does show how far Dartmouth has come, Casey said there is still room to grow.

“Dartmouth arguably is still a problematic place for a lot of people, [but] the further you go back, the more you see that there were a lot of people who had really complicated experiences at Dartmouth,” Casey said. “I feel like as a student now, I owe a lot to them for being some of the first students at Dartmouth who were out or trying to pave the way for a gay community at Dartmouth.”

Birch said she hopes that SpeakOut will have a lasting impact in the Dartmouth community.

“At Rauner, we like to talk about this concept of a reusable past,” Birch said. “What we mean by that is essentially that things have happened in Dartmouth’s history that are not always things that are the way we would have hoped would have gone, but if we can bring them to light and not shy away from them, we can learn from them and build a better present for the community on campus today and into the future.”

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