Alumna begins project to document accomplishments of minorities at U

Jessica Thompson

Freelance writer Julie Medbery set up shop inside Elmer L. Andersen Library on Wednesday with one goal — to dig up lost information about groups previously ignored in University records.
The University’s 150th anniversary prompted researchers to delve into the archives and uncover interesting but forgotten leaders and landmark events from the school’s rich history.
This search, however, revealed a lack of records about the contributions and experiences of minorities at the University.
“We found out by doing sesquicentennial projects that records of multicultural achievements are not readily available in the archives,” said Sue Eastman, sesquicentennial coordinator. “Information was very fragmented and you had to really hunt to find anything.”
Hired in mid-October, Medbery began to outline the massive project and set up interviews on Nov. 1.
Eastman said Medbery was chosen partly because of her more than 30-year connection with the University.
Medbery first came to the University as a student in the 1960s, earning a master’s degree in English literature.
After graduation, she worked in the school’s department of secondary education and as executive assistant to the dean of extension services. She retired last year to pursue a freelance writing career.
Medbery said her main goal is to establish a base of the University’s accomplishments in multiculturalism, which will be placed in University archives.
“We want this information to be accessible to everyone,” she said. “Before now, there weren’t very many sources to draw upon. There just wasn’t a record.”
The project is also intended to encourage student groups to begin documenting their experiences, said Anne Pflaum, a University historian who is co-authoring a book about the University’s last 50 years with retired history professor Stanford Lehmberg.
“One of the most important things we have learned is that history is precious and fleeting, and you really need to pay attention to documenting it,” she said.
For her book, Pflaum said she and Lehmberg interviewed hundreds of students, staff and faculty members from the University’s past and present in hopes of presenting a comprehensive history.
University notables interviewed include Sandy Stevens and Betty Ann Whitman.
Stevens was one of the first African-American quarterbacks in the Big Ten. Stevens led the Gophers from the bottom of the conference in the late 1950s to a 1961 Rose Bowl victory.
Whitman is an American Indian who left her Ojibwe reservation in the late 1960s to become one of the first American Indians to attend the University.
Pflaum said her interviews have reflected that, historically, the University has been fairly progressive regarding minority advancements and equality.
“For a small state, Minnesota made quite an imprint in the civil rights movement,” she said. “Leaders such as Mondale and Humphrey engaged altruism on the part of students.”
Of course, the University’s historical record has its blemishes.
When the school denied black instructor Forrest Wiggins tenure in the late 1950s, Pflaum said the University let him go because of his leftist political views during the era of McCarthyism.
Medbery’s job is to try to document the experiences of people connected with the University, as well as to explore measures taken by the administration to increase equality.
Eastman said although research will focus on seven groups — Latino-Chicanos, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, people with disabilities, American Indians, gays and women — the project is open-ended, and other populations may be researched later on.
The final outcome will be a resource book in the archives for each group, which will contain Medbery’s findings. Additionally, the University’s Web site will be enhanced and a variety of presentations will be made.
Medbery said her research is already provoking excitement in the University community.
“So many people seem interested in the project and everyone is so helpful,” she said. “This is a critically important step for the University.”

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