Working Toward Archival Activism

by Mysia Perry

Mysia Perry is a rising sophomore from Richmond, VA with an intended major in Leadership Studies and minor in Sociology and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.  She is a part of the WILL* program, Peer Advisors and Mentors,  Planned Parenthood Generation Action, and she is both an Oldham and Oliver Hill Scholar. This is her first summer working on the Race & Racism Project on Team Oral History, and she is very excited to begin working for more equitable environment here at the University of Richmond.

My mock interview and oral history preparation research began with doing an investigation and delving deeper into what good oral histories and podcasts would be. This all is a really new phenomenon for me, one that I am extremely unfamiliar with, so I spent most of my day one research just exploring the different ways in which people could create and produce radio. A big part of me being able to decide where I want to go with my research was identifying how I wanted to frame it in the end. I used this time to help me formulate an end goal and identify an overarching theme to highlight throughout my interviews. I ultimately decided that I wanted to highlight the ways we are affected by the views of those that we should be able trust. Overall, this idea would focus on how roommates, staff, and faculty affected the lives of the minority students that first arrived on campus. Once I did that, it was easier to figure out where I wanted to focus on as part of my research and the questions that we should ask.

I found that the next step in my research became much easier as a result of investigating what podcasts and oral histories could be. It made it clear to me that I need to identify what I really am searching for when it comes to creating these oral histories. I need to identify how I can make these oral histories more directed at filling in the gaps in the narratives we have in the archives, and I also need to identify how to make the oral histories I create have a focus in social justice. This process made me really think about how I can use these oral histories as my own form of archival activism and commemorative justice (a phrase coined by Untold RVA’s Free Egunfemi, a partner of the Race & Racism Project). This was why I decided to work on this project. I wanted this not only for myself, but for the others around me who were not as willing to do so themselves. I know how important it is to be acknowledged in history and feel that you have a place in your community. We can create that by acknowledging that there were people who share our identities that came before us. This is something we historically see as crucial to different demographics through generations of storytelling in order to hold onto an identity. In order to be welcoming of more minority students and become more equitable and social justice oriented, we must build that identity for the minority students at UR.

When it came to researching the subjects of our mock interviews and my oral history, I was excited to see Iria Jones’ (W’87) response talking about co-ed housing on the University of Richmond, especially because that was such a new, non-traditional phenomenon that she is happily and proudly speaking out against as a women of color at a predominately white institution (PWI). I am also interested to hear more about the experience was she quoted on in a 1990 Collegian article “Racism 101“, in which she spoke about what it meant to be at this school with a full scholarship, something I can really relate to.

I am most concerned that there will be much more worse things than what I am prepared to hear, but I am also really excited because of that. I am worried though that it will be hard to identify the connections between what I have seen and what the subjects of these oral histories have seen and been through. I am worried that my privilege and positionality may cloud the importance of their messages because I haven’t been through the things of the past. In these interviews, I am most looking forward to the establishing the connections in the stories of current minority students and those of minority alums. I am really interested in seeing how all the things I experience on a day-to-day basis at the university can stem from the things that happened many years ago. It can seem so far away at times but having that can really tether the struggles of the present to those of the past.