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EP Working Group - Race & Racism in Historical Collections

About this group

The Race & Racism in Historical Collections Project Group (now the RRHC Working Group) formed in spring 2021 under the auspices of Vassar's Engaged Pluralism Initiative (EPI). Our charge: 

The Race and Racism in Historical Collections EPI Project Group will work with the library to describe, contextualize, and provide access to Vassar’s history, as represented in the historical collections of yearbooks, diaries, photographs, and newspapers, in ethical and honest ways. These historical collections, primarily from the early 20th century, include language and images that reflect racial stereotypes, bias, and racism, perpetrated by individuals as well as embedded within Vassar’s institutional culture and the wider culture of systemic racism that persists to this day.

This group will facilitate discussions with the Vassar community about these collections, and about the library’s responsible stewardship of this evidence of the college’s past. We plan to create an inclusive space for engagement and collective reflection about how our past echoes in our present.

Spring 2023: Complicating Founder's Day

What comes to mind when you think of Founder's Day? How did we get from a celebration of Matthew Vassar's birthday to Founder's Day as it's currently recognized?

On April 26, 2023, the EP Working Group on Race & Racism in Historical Collections invited the Vassar community to Complicating Founder's Day.

This event explored the complex, often challenging, history behind this Vassar tradition. Through images, objects, and opportunities for discussion and reflection, we grappled together with the legacy and evolution of Founder's Day and envisioned what it might become as we celebrate additional Vassar “founders and firsts.” 

CW: Please be aware that some of the materials included in the Complicating Founder's Day folder are racist, xenophobic, or otherwise harmful. 

This event was sponsored by Engaged Pluralism and the Vassar College Libraries. 


Fall 2022: CLCS 181

In fall 2022, working group members Deb Bucher and Melanie Maksin co-taught a one-credit Intensive with Jonathon Kahn (EPI Director and Professor of Religion): Facing the Vassar College Archive. 

EPI Fall 22 Intensive

Our ongoing work

 In 2021-2022, the Race & Racism in Historical Collections Working Group: 

  • Learned more about the glass plate negatives and other historical collections from project group member Laura Streett
  • Read and discussed articles from the library/archives literature related to critical librarianship, critical archival studies, and ethical cataloging practices
  • Began a discussion of "Whiteness as Property" by Cheryl I. Harris at the recommendation of project group member Mia Mask
  • Identified and discussed examples of content statements and cataloging from other archives and institutions
  • Revised the content statement about Vassar's historical collections for the Vassar Digital Library, which relaunched in summer 2022
  • Participated in the February 2022 EPI Open House to spread the word about our project group
  • Presented at conferences (Oberlin Group Libraries Lightning Talks, LACOL 2022) to share what we're doing and to learn from colleagues at other institutions who may be engaged in similar work