Archives exhibit features student movements throughout IU history

Post by IU Newsroom intern Annie Brackemyre

Coming to a university often provides students their first opportunity for free self-expression. Indiana University has a long history of self-expression and public reactions to local, national and global events like the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in Indiana, the refugee crisis of World War II, McCarthyism, the Vietnam War, apartheid in South Africa and the AIDS crisis.

Student Reform Movements at IU,” an IU Archives exhibit, highlights a few of the student protest movements on campus since the university’s founding in 1820.The exhibit is free and open to the public from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday in Wells Library E460 through June 19.

A 1940 letter from a Viennese Jewish refugee thanks the IU president and trustees for making it possible for her to continue her education

A 1940 letter from a Viennese Jewish refugee thanks the IU president and trustees for making it possible for her to continue her education. (Click to enlarge).

“I wanted to show a span of time,” said Carrie Schwier, public services and outreach archivist at the IU Archives. “Protest movements aren’t a new thing, and it wasn’t just in the 1960s and 1970s that students were finding their voice. Students have been involved in protest and civil rights movements throughout the history of the university, not just the time periods you normally think of.”

The exhibit was curated by Schwier, and Department of Information and Library Science graduate students Alessandro Meregaglia and Elizabeth Peters.

“I started thinking about the idea of protest movement in light of the 30-year anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr. Day,” Schwier said. “I knew about refugee dances during World War II and realized that the same issues are really relevant. Issues we’ve dealt with in the past, we’re still dealing with today.”

The exhibit features,  among other movements, IU’s 19th-century literary societies and their pushback against university censorship; Theodore Dreiser’s inspiration drawn from the Bloomington community; the 1968 Little 500 sit-in; the 1950s student green feather movement; and a nine-month shantytown in Dunn Meadow, protesting apartheid.

Curating an exhibit that spans the entirety of IU’s history takes time. Schwier and her graduate assistants spent six months combing the archives for letters, photos, publications and fliers. Knowing where to begin looking among IU’s 40,000 cubic feet of archives and 2 million photographs requires a familiarity with the archives that comes only after years of experience.

“I knew I wanted to focus on student groups that made a difference and movements that are still relevant today,” Schwier said. “We made a short list, which was actually a long list, then narrowed it down by what movements we found with engaging items.”

Advertisements for refugee dances sit alongside one of the most personal items in the exhibit, a letter from a Viennese woman thanking the university for making her studies possible years after Nazi control of Austria. IU students had held refugee dances to raise money to help displaced European Jews study at IU.

“I love that letter,” Schwier said. “She writes so elegantly, and it just puts you right there with her.”

Without explicitly making a connection to the modern immigration crisis, the intimacy of the letter parallels the current situation of refugees leaving Syria and Iraq.

Schwier said one of her favorite pieces in the collection is a copy of the Vagabond. A satirical publication of poetry, visual art and essays, the Vagabond was published by students from 1923 to 1931.

“It’s the early-1900s equivalent of the Onion,” Schwier said.

The paper tackled issues including women’s dorm curfews, racial inequality and the KKK.

Also featured are modern movements including feminist Take Back the Night walks, university observance of MLK Day, the creation of the Latino Studies Department and the Asian Culture Center, LGBT protests and AIDS demonstrations.

“Not everything in the exhibit is an intensely provocative issue,” Schwier said. “But the exhibit shows students reacting to current events and the world around them. Every generation does so in some way.”