Students Explore History of Campus Activism

In a 1971 Cactus yearbook photo spread titled “A Diverse Campus Society,” students are pictured studying on the lawn and walking to class. Some have long hair and bohemian clothes; others look more preppy.

But almost all of them are white.

“As visual rhetoric, these photos are really interesting,” said Genesis Moore, pointing at the yearbook page projected on a screen. “Does this say ‘diversity’ to you? It doesn’t look like diversity to me.”

Moore, a senior rhetoric and biology major, was one of four UT undergraduates exploring questions of diversity through lectures held Tuesday at the Student Activity Center.

Titled “Activism, Advocacy, and Action,” the event featured presentations on the history of African-American, Asian, Latino, and gay and lesbian student activism at UT.

The project was the brainchild of Choquette Hamilton, BA ’03, Life Member, who directs UT’s Multicultural Engagement Center in the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement.

Hamilton wrote her undergraduate thesis on the history of African-American student activism on campus, and found the experience so meaningful that she decided to mentor young students on their own projects.

“Documenting history is really important for progress,” Hamilton said. “When I did my own research, I realized that the diversity issues we were dealing with on campus were not new. Because we didn’t know about the past, we were repeating it. So I wanted to make sure that everyone has access to this information.”

The students combed through campus archives to compile history binders that will be open to the public at the Multicultural Engagement Center. An online archive is also in the works.

Ambalika Williams, a senior government major, researched the history of gay and lesbian campus activism from 1990 to 2005.

Williams said she was surprised to learn that gay and lesbian campus activists have been asking for faculty and staff domestic partner benefits for many years.

“I couldn’t believe the first document I found about domestic partner benefits was from 1990. 1990, y’all,” Williams said. “This struggle has been going on for more than 20 years, and it’s still not over.”

UT offers some benefits for domestic partners, but Williams said they are not competitive with those at peer institutions.

Moore, who researched African-American campus history, said the project taught her that activism comes in many forms.

“I didn’t know anything about UT’s racial history,” Moore said. “Now I know there are different ways to be an activist—for example, what we’re doing right now.”

Top: Ambalika Williams talks about the history of gay and lesbian activism at UT. Right: Students, staff, and faculty browse history binders created by the student researchers. Photos by Bret Brookshire.


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