Preparing for Oral Histories

by Jisu Song

Jisu Song is a sophomore from Richmond, Virginia not decided in major but minoring in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (WGSS). She has been involved with the Race & Racism Project since 2019 and is currently serving in the Oral History Team. As a student, she is an executive member in WILL*, member of Sirens, and a peer advisors and mentors. She hopes to work for global audiences.

As we moved into third week, Team Oral History started to prepare for interviews. As I meet more people who supports this project and articles that explain the importance of the Oral Histories and Archive, my passion towards this project increased even more. As I talk about this project to my acquaintances; I had many negative reactions. I heard some say that “racism is a joke” because everyone is treated equally. While I respect those opinions, our society holds racism in many forms. Eduardo Bonilla Silva, a sociology professor at Duke University, explains that new racism has formed after the Jim Crow Era. New racism shows that society itself has a racism by without using the word. It is very subtle, institutional that uses the nonracial mechanism. No one acknowledges that they are racist, but students of color still feel oppressed by many people, new racism is very real yet subtle. Free Egunfemi, the founder of Untold RVA, told us that we need to hold three characteristics: self-determination, resistance, and intersectionality. She explained that self-determination is doing what you are called to do no matter the situation, resistance is to find a new way to improve the world, and intersectionality is to gather diverse perspective into the topic. I truly believe that Race & Racism Project will allow all three characteristics to be existed not only for students but also for alumni.

My first interviewee was Beth Marshak. She graduated in 1972 as a Westhampton student. The only information that I had before I started researching was that she is a 1972 graduate, living in Richmond, and participated in OWL, a women liberation group on campus. I started looking up her name in the Collegian search first and found two articles about her. I was able to have few background information about Beth. I found that she was very active in the University to work on social justices. She was in the WC executive committee and the fact that she expresses herself as lesbian. When searching Google, I found some great information about her. I found her in the outstanding Virginians page. I was able to understand more deeply about her general background and what she accomplished after she graduated from University of Richmond. However, I still did not find a clue about OWL. When I looked up in the University of Richmond search bar, the first result was about the School of Professional and Continuing study page. At first, I thought that she attended the School of Professional and Continuing but I had huge questions about this. The fact that she graduated in 1972 as a student in Westhampton College did not match with the OWL. I had to ask Irina Rogova, an archivist who runs the Race & Racism Project, for the clarification. Irina explained to me that OWL is not the School of Professional and Continuing program. It was a student lead organization at Westhampton College called women’s liberation organization. Irina and I was able to fine a Collegian article called “WC ‘Lib’ Group Benefits from Shock of Creation”. The article was about how 30 Westhampton College students met every Wednesday to help women’s liberation on campus. Beth Marshak was the head of the organization. “Organization would give women a chance to look at their relationships to things that are changing” Beth says in the Collegian article. Beth challenges people’s stereotypes on the topic. I found out that there were people who were active in changing people’s stereotypes on campus. It was surprising to see that while the campus holds passive atmosphere there are still people who challenged people’s opinion. I am truly excited just to listen to her interactions that she had with other college students.

I am really excited to meet Beth Marshak and talk about many different things that were happening in 1968 through 1972 in the University of Richmond. I wonder how women college students were treated differently than now. As the Collegian article states that certain sociology and psychology class was not available for Westhampton students. I wonder how people reacted to her identifying as lesbian on campus. I wonder how welcoming or accepting the idea of LGBTQ+ members into the community back then. I am really excited to meet her to discuss further interesting questions about her student life.