During the 2018-2019 academic year, students in Professor Ann Keating’s HIST 200 Methods class uncovered racist images in North Central College’s student newspaper and yearbook archives. From this discovery, Ann Keating, C. Frederick Toenniges professor of history; William Barnett, associate professor of history; and Rebecca Skirvin, coordinator of the College’s archives and special collections organized a group of five students––Cynthia Apantenco ’19, Jojo Galvan Mora ’19, Mathew Norvell ’19, Genesis Thomas ’20 and Christopher Gill ’21––to research and analyze the publications.
They presented their research October 12 to more than 70 members of the campus community, who gathered virtually for the first forum of the academic year. Each researcher presented his or her findings based on their assigned historical time frame. For instance, researcher Christopher Gill ‘21 presented more information on the uncovered images of minstrel shows with white musical performers dressing in blackface on campus.
“The most rewarding part of the project has been seeing students deeply and meaningfully engage in primary sources about the College’s history and seeing them understand how important their work is,” said Skirvin. “Students learn that meaningful scholarship can happen when you engage with the history of a community you belong to and look at it critically, as a way to help improve it.”
As the researchers worked hard to learn more about the College’s history to help pave a path toward justice and tolerance, the process of doing so was not always easy. “The most challenging part has been the flip side––that doing this kind of deep, meaningful engagement with the history of an institution you care deeply about can be painful because you can’t ignore the repeated use of racist language and imagery,” said Skirvin. “That kind of sustained engagement can really take a toll. Watching students struggle with this pain was hard, and I am proud of them for coming out on the other side of this project still loving their educational community but aware of its flawed history.”
What are the next steps for the project? Keating, Barnett and Skirvin will find a new group of students for the paid position to continue researching and analyzing the newspapers and yearbooks of the 1930s and 1940s during summer 2021. They also expect to hold more forums because research and self-examination are vital components for the College community to learn and grow, and contribute to the ongoing conversation about the role of race in North Central’s history and the work ahead.
Top row: Professor William Barnett, Christopher Gill ’21 and Mathew Norvell ’19. Second row: Cynthia Apantenco ’19, Rebecca Skirvin and Professor Ann Keating. Bottom row: Jojo Galvan Mora ’19