Students at OAAA’s Importance of Community Archiving discuss Ryan’s response to MSC controversy

The event offered students an opportunity to discuss community archiving in the context of controversies surrounding a recent statements MSC

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The event was held Thursday in Shannon House. John Pappas | Cavalier Daily

The Office of African-American Affairs hosted a presentation titled “The Importance of Community Archiving” Thursday in Shannon House. The event is one of the OAAA’s February events to celebrate Black History Month and part of the class “The Urgency of Now & the Relevance of Then: Introduction to Community Archiving” –– a semester long seminar course which features smaller classes and emphasizes discussions, taught by Associate Dean Michael Mason and Sony Prosper, a resident librarian at the University.

The class was incorporated as an event for this month’s Black History Month celebration because it fit this year’s theme for the celebration — the Urgency of Now and the Relevance of Then, which Mason characterized as studying the “past with urgency to be better informed as we navigate these polarized moments in our history.” Other events have included a talk on “Invisibility and the Black Muslim Experience,” which took place Tuesday, as well as an event titled “From Us to You, Black Love from UVA Celebration,” which will be held Feb. 29.

Adjunct Professor Andrea Blackman was invited to guide the class discussion with Mason and Prosper about how to approach the process of archiving while considering neutrality and incorporating provenance –– a term describing a person’s contextual integrity when creating the order of an archive. She also went on to explain that community archiving is an important function to society because they create conversations and questions about the past.

When discussing how to create an archive, the class applied the terms they learned and used an archival approach to President Ryan’s opinion column responding to discussion about the Multicultural Student Center, which he wrote in light of recent controversies surrounding the space. Last week, a video of a University student stating that the MSC is a space for people of color and that white students should be cognizant of the space they occupy, went viral after the Young America’s Foundation, a conservative youth organization, posted the video on Twitter. 

Mason decided to incorporate the video post and Ryan’s piece as part of the class because he felt it worked perfectly into the course’s curriculum.

“Processing this content together, allowed us to consider abstract archival ideas like provenance and neutrality, yet, within concrete lived experience,” Mason wrote in an email to The Cavalier Daily. “This current situation mapped onto the course material so neatly it would have been a travesty to waste the opportunity to learn through it with our students.”

Second-year College student Ty’Leik Chambers expressed both appreciation for and dissatisfaction with the president’s message, saying that although Ryan addressed bigger issues surrounding space and place at the University, the lack of concrete plans oversimplifies students’ experiences. 

“Saying all students feel like U.Va. students to me came across as very idealistic,” Chambers said. “At the same time [Ryan is] not taking into account the societal pressures and the societal influences of being a black student, being a white student, being a low-income student et cetera … I felt like his response kind of didn't touch on those issues and came from an idealistic perspective.”

Similarly, second-year College student Tyler Lolicht said that the University has a tendency to avoid addressing controversy in favor of promoting unity. 

“Nowhere in this does he actually address the problem,” Lolicht said. “They want to create this illusion of unity, but it's not there unless you tackle these issues.”

Merhawi Huwarshek, a fourth-year in the College, noted that he never noticed white students spending time in the MSC’s previous location in the Lower Level Newcomb. The MSC, which relocated the second floor of Newcomb, opened its doors to students Feb. 6, after students advocated for a larger space. 

The larger and more visible space, Huwarshek said, has resulted in a greater number of white students utilizing the center. 

“The roof [in the MSC’s previous location] was busted and it wasn't covered,” Huwarshek said. “I had never seen a white person in that room before for the new building. I've been there a couple times and notice as soon as you go to the new floor all these white people colonized the room.”

First-year College student Nathan Her argued that Ryan has a difficult job to prevent the arguments from escalating further. The video in question has received over 5 million views online, which Her said puts Ryan in a difficult position. 

Considering the multiple perspectives produced by Ryan’s column, Mason noted that he knew the president’s response would not be perfect and, to him, that was acceptable.

"As I waited for the essay, I worked hard to accept the reality that his response would not be perfect,” Mason said. “Instead of perfect, I only hoped that it would be somewhere between ‘good and great.’ It was. Now, the harder work must be undertaken by all of us inside our classrooms and throughout our living communities."

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