Student researchers craft 'Resisting Racism' exhibit

By Maureen McGavin | Emory Report | April 20, 2016

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Donna Troka (standing at left), American Studies adjunct assistant professor, and Gabrielle Dudley, Rose Library instruction archivist and QEP librarian, help students in Troka’s "Resisting Racism" spring semester class work with the library’s civil rights collections. Emory Photo/Video.

Students in a class focused on the civil rights and Black Lives Matter movements found a rewarding research experience in the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library.

Members of Donna Troka’s class "Resisting Racism: From Black is Beautiful to Black Lives Matter" gave presentations on their research April 19 in the Rose Library. Their work resulted in a small exhibit called "Resisting Racism: From Civil Rights to Black Lives Matter," which is now open in the Rose Library Teaching and Learning Studio, on Level 10 of Emory’s Robert W. Woodruff Library.

The American Studies class of 19 students represents a variety of disciplines, including business, sociology, history and women’s studies. The students formed six groups to work on topics such as policing, education, protest tactics, white supremacy/white privilege, gender/sex and respectability politics, and health. They conducted their research using primary source materials in the Rose Library.

Their research culminated in the new exhibit, with the students selecting the displayed materials with assistance from Gabrielle Dudley, Rose Library instruction archivist and QEP librarian. The six panels in the exhibit contain images of newspaper clippings, photographs and documents that best represent each of the six areas of research, and text written by the students about their conclusions.

"It’s an absolute privilege to even touch these documents and see how much care has been put into them. It’s like a step back in time," says Emory College senior Shanice Kellman, who worked on the sex, gender and respectability politics section.

David Binler, a sophomore majoring in business, said he enjoyed conducting research in the archives, which was very different than the research he usually does for his business classes. "It’s hands-on research in the archives," he explains.

Troka, adjunct assistant professor in the Institute of Liberal Arts and associate director of the Center for Faculty Development and Excellence, notes that although writing a paper has its own value, this kind of student-faculty partnership encourages a different, more tangible learning outcome.

"When they were finding things, some of them were calling me over, wanting to show me," Troka says. "It was exciting to see that discovery process."

Those discoveries included surprises. Sophomore Sia Beasley, who worked with the papers of educator and civil rights activist Constance W. Curry, was intrigued to find a handwritten grocery list on the back of a document about a conference on health and race.

"It just reminds you that the people you read and hear about are real people who existed, lived and wrote down what they needed at the grocery store," she says.

"Another thought that I had upon going through these documents was that the papers that I am touching right now have also been in the hands of very important civil rights activists," Beasley adds. "There is something intimate about holding a letter that was written by Arlen Specter and sent to a Southern Christian Coalition leader. You feel more connected to what you are learning, which allowed me to develop a more passionate connection to my work."

Some of the findings were disturbing for the students. Junior Sari Flomenbaum, who worked with the white privilege/white supremacy group, says her team spent a lot of time sifting through hate propaganda.

"The hardest part for me was the clear, tangible, pure hatred in the articles and cartoons, and what struck me was because it was the physical document that was sent out to people. The document we held could have been seen and held by however many people at that time," Flomenbaum says.

The exhibit will remain on view during regular Rose Library hours through Aug. 1.