The UConn Archives: A cure for institutional memory loss 


From a glance, the University of Connecticut appears to transcend time, and yet simultaneously be a product of it. The aesthetic clash, not to mention differences in quality and accessibility, between the historic brick-and-mortar buildings of the old campus to newer glass and concrete behemoths like Science 1 demonstrates this quite well, as does the multi-generational makeup of UConn’s faculty in all disciplines.  

However, no aspect of UConn represents this duality between timeliness and timelessness quite like its hidden gem: the UConn Library Archives and Special Collections department, located in the Dodd Center for Human Rights. In a video produced by UConn Today, ASC Education and Outreach Coordinator Kara Flynn says the department houses “the UConn Library’s rare and published works, as well as the University Archives and over 1,200 archival collections of primary sources,” in addition to “university history materials.” Flynn places a special emphasis on the accessibility of the archives, inviting students to explore the collections. The Daily Campus Editorial Board echoes this sentiment and encourages members of the UConn community to take advantage of the wealth of histories residing within the ASC.  

And while the ASC’s diversity of collections include subjects from arts and culture to the natural history of Connecticut, what stands apart in terms of relevance to students are the UConn History and Alternative Press collections. Deeper within the UConn History Collection are archival resources on “student unrest,” showing in extensive visual and written detail the social issues that students mobilized around and, more importantly, how they mobilized around them. Among the most captivating archives is a photo gallery of 300 predominantly-Black students holding a sit-in in Wilbur Cross Library on April 23, 1974, to which then-President Glenn Ferguson responded by calling in buses of state troopers to arrest over 200 of the students, according to a report the following day by The Daily Campus. The sit-in, organized around the demands of re-unifying the anthropology department, investigating faculty in the biobehavioral studies department and expanding the African American Cultural Center, closely mirrors student concerns today over the academic and cultural space held for students of color at UConn, particularly with respect to “underfunded” cultural centers and programs. 

Conversely, the massive, punitive police response to the sit-in betrays an unequal historical treatment of peaceful student activists of color compared to the treatment of predominantly-white students who engaged in mass vandalism after the 2023 NCAA championship just weeks ago. We are not advocating for a harsher police response to vandalism, nor the deployment of UConn PD in general. Rather, The Daily Campus Editorial Board holds that student activists today must look at the strategy and tactics of their predecessors, who shared the same struggles such as anti-racism and resisting the military-industrial complex and lack of democracy, the latter two detailed in a documentary produced by UConn Students for a Democratic Society titled “Diary of a Student Revolution.” 

The ASC is a tool against institutional memory-loss, whereby the knowledge and skills acquired by activists and organizers in one generation fail to transmit it to the next. Because post-secondary education is essentially a four-year revolving door of students coming and going, university administrators and trustees — who themselves have turnover — may take comfort in knowing that after a certain period of time, the student body to which they made promises will no longer be there to hold those commitments to account. The 2019 President’s Working Group on Sustainability and the Environment and 2020 President’s Task Force on Mental Health and Wellness, both headed by former President Tom Katsouleas, represent two initiatives whose progress and recommendations were made obsolete by competing presidential proposals or discarded entirely. This cannot be the standard, especially as crises of climate change, cost of living and global conflict escalate daily.  

Preserving the art, organizational documents and reporting of previous generations thus empowers today’s activists to learn from their lessons as long as resources are accessible and student organizers are motivated to use them. We also call on UConn’s current cohort of organizers to ensure that their work is not lost to history by utilizing the archives to retain documents that could be of use to the next generation of struggle.  

Students interested in visiting the archive reading room may request an appointment two business days in advance on the UConn Library’s reservation website. Archives staff are available for reference services Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., by phone at (860) 486-2524 or email at The Schimmelpfeng Gallery is open Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

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