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UMD Libraries, Others Partner on $750K to Archive Social Justice Activism by College Students of Color

Grant From The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to Support Documentation, Digitization, Workshops

By Maryland Today Staff

African American students demonstrate against the Vietnam War on the steps of the Main Administration Building

Photo courtesy of University Archives

African American students demonstrate against the Vietnam War on the steps of the Main Administration Building in the early 1970s. A new grant will help the University of Maryland and other institutions digitally archive documentation of student activism by people of color.

The University of Maryland Libraries is partnering with the Atlanta University Center Robert Woodruff Library and the nationwide consortium Project STAND, which have received a $750,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to expand a free digital archive of documents and artifacts chronicling activism among college students of color.

The multi-institutional collection includes oral histories, recordings of student radio, film and digital photography, posters, newspapers and other documentation of diverse movements and groups, stretching from the present as far back as student abolitionist activity during African American enslavement. 

Lae’l Hughes-Watkins, university archivist at the University of Maryland Libraries and founder of Project STAND, said the 70-member project’s next phase of development is launching at a challenging period in American history.

“Thinking about the moment we’re in, where we are having a reckoning over social justice and racial justice, my hope is that this grant can add to that crucial conversation,” she said. “It’s often students who are on the front lines demanding the concerns marginalized communities be heard. We want to add to the foundation of that conversation.”

Loretta Parham, CEO of the AUC Woodruff Library, said it looks forward to continuing to work with Project STAND, “a truly esteemed network of institutions and advocates who have been leading efforts to document activism and social justice among BIPOC college students.”

"The AUC Woodruff Library stands on a legacy of preserving the cultural history of African American students across the largest consortium of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) that began in the 1920s, making the convergence of these partners’ missions and strategic initiatives ideal for this project,” she said.

The grant will enable the establishment of two residencies, during which selected members will establish best practices for archivists and educators documenting student activism in vulnerable communities with a social justice lens, as well as five workshops on self-documentation for student organizers. Workshops will be held in partnership with DocNow, a collaborative effort between UMD, the University of Virginia and the Shift Collective to support the ethical collection, use and preservation of social media content produced by student organizers in communities of color.

Giving the student activists agency in the process, as well as knowledge about how the collection will be used, is paramount, Hughes-Watkins said.

“We are inspired by this generous level of support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to continue to strengthen relationships we are building with student organizers in Black and Brown communities and other marginalized student populations,” she said. “Our efforts to engage in the ethical documentation and archiving of these communities—who remain at the forefront of some of the most transformative work in this time of reckoning within academic organizations—have gained a new sense of urgency."

Project STAND will offer $80,000 microgrants to support the establishment of small, digitized collections documenting student activism at eight institutions. 

Along with its outward-facing initiatives, this new funding will expand Project STAND’s digital infrastructure, and Hughes-Watkins hopes to showcase and build on Maryland’s existing collections of student activism. 

"I'm really looking forward to highlighting the histories of student organizations including UMD’s Black Student Union, and records from our Latinx student community and on the histories of our undocumented students,” she said. "As President (Darryll J.) Pines works with the administration to address the demands from Black student leaders across campus, documenting what those leaders have done will help inspire future generations. This grant helps support an environment to do that work."

The grant additionally supports the formal launch of “A Blueprint,” Project STAND’s new podcast featuring historians, students and alumni activists. Using social media, people will be able nominate each other—or themselves—to feature on the podcast. One of its first episodes features Saba Tshibaka, a UMD senior and Black Terps Matter organizer.  

With a myriad of grant-supported initiatives ahead, the University of Maryland will hire a project coordinator to help Hughes-Watkins and Project STAND bring their vision to life.

"We are proud to partner in this exciting endeavor with the AUC Woodruff Library and Project STAND," said Adriene Lim, dean of University of Maryland Libraries, "and to advance our work providing collections and programs that reflect the diversity of our community, and incorporate the histories and experiences of those who have been historically underrepresented.”

The Atlanta University Center Robert Woodruff Library contributed to this article. 

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