This post was authored by Jamie Van Doren ’23, Special Collections and University Archives student aide.
As we round out the Spring 2022 semester, I’m happy to get the chance to reflect on my time as a student aide in the Digital Archiving Lab thus far. I started in February, and I’ve gotten to do interesting work that I’ve found both exciting and fulfilling. I’ve helped to scan and photograph documents for one of the school’s Historic Preservation classes, scanned documents from the Michael Mello files for our HIST298 class (which I’ve taken—and survived!), and learned how to reshelve and work with books in the Rare Books Room over in Special Collections. The project that I’ve spent the most time on, though, has been helping to edit transcriptions of our collection of Black Alumni Oral Histories, which will be up on Special Collections and University Archives’ Digital Collections site sometime soon.
While the transcription process is tedious at times, this project has above all been a deeply rewarding experience for me. It feels like a meeting of all of my interests as a history major, a gender studies major, and a student aide hoping to become a librarian later on. It was my job to listen to student-conducted interviews with Black alumni, and edit the corresponding transcriptions for accuracy. The process is simple, but time consuming; one hour of interview most often took me three to four hours to transcribe and check through. This gave me a generous amount of time to absorb and consider the words of our alumni as I worked, and I really did enjoy every second of it.
Listening to and documenting the stories of these alumni has connected me with Mary Washington in a way that I don’t think I have been before. I’ve seen myself, my friends, and a greater image of Mary Washington itself in the recounting of our Black alumni. It has been a reminder for me that the people who have attended, and who currently attend, this school, are what give it such a deep and vibrant history. I know that I have shared dormitories, walked campus walk, and studied in the same library as so many amazing people. Even if we weren’t here at the same time, we have shared so many of the same experiences.
Each of us have our own stories here at Mary Washington, and I’ve been honored to hear and help share those of students before me. Hearing from our Black alumni is particularly valuable as our school grapples with its history (and present day) as a predominantly white institution. Many of the interviews discussed students’ experiences with racism/discrimination on our campus, in Fredericksburg, and in their lives as a whole. These interviews are a vital and important piece of our school’s quest to honor the experiences and stories of minorities on campus (check out the mural dedicated to the life of Mary Washington’s first Black graduate, Venus Jones, in Jepson Science Center or through the accompanying website for another example).
These oral histories are an insightful and meaningful resource that all of our students, faculty, and staff will benefit from hearing. Not only are they great for those interested in the history and atmosphere of Mary Washington; they’re also just a joy to listen to as a whole. I got to hear so many funny, relatable, and helpful stories about our alumni’s experiences in school and in their lives and careers after their time at Mary Washington. The lives of our Black alumni are powerful, complex, and vibrant. It is so important that we continue to make space to hear their stories and get to know their lives and experiences as we work together to help the University of Mary Washington thrive.