By Chad Dawson, Spelman College Professor of Art History & Curatorial Studies
I have found the Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library’s (RWWL) Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums (GLAM) Center for Collaborative Teaching and Learning as well as the Research Center invaluable resources for my classes. In addition to offering class visits and digital resources to my students, I was fortunate enough to be a part of one Direct Study project that resulted in a great student-curated documentary exhibition and one that can hopefully serve as a model for future collaborations.
It was fantastic to see the result of Darshai Hollie’s research—documents related to the maintenance of student mental health at the AUC throughout the last century. What Darshai found was revelatory. While concern for the wellbeing of students, in many senses, has always been a part of life on our campuses, services for the mental health of students has gradually increased since the 1950s. Through Darshai’s finds—letters, yearbook sections, photographs, and articles—we can see the efforts to address and advise students through the turbulence of the previous century with the formations of campus clinics and systems of referral. The concern of students’ mental wellbeing has certainly proved to be a lingering effect of our recent history. While the acute concern for our collective physical health has subsided a bit over the past year, the impact of the pandemic’s isolation and disruption has lasting effects.
I was excited to learn that in Spring semester 2022, Darshai would continue her work with the ARC, using a selection of those materials to put together an exhibition in the archives. In conjunction with Martina Dodd, Tiffany Atwater Lee and the RWWL Archives Research Center staff, Darshai worked on the practical dimension of putting together a display. As my own professional experience over the years has taught me, practicing proper object handling, preparing and mounting didactic labels, and making decisions about placement are indispensable skills. It was an absolute delight for our Curatorial Studies practicum/ capstone class to visit Darshai’s work and discuss the project. The staff’s work was amazing, taking what I had envisioned as some guidance on a research assignment to the point of a completed, physical exhibition is a collaboration to celebrate.
Chad Dawkins is Visiting Assistant Professor of Art History and Curatorial Studies at Spelman College as part of the AUC Art Collective. More information about the program is available at: www.aucartcollective.org