With a swipe of the screen, the history and legacy of the Black experience at The University of New Mexico is now available thanks to a new touchscreen at the African American Student Services office in Mesa Vista Hall. The website touchscreen project Black History at UNM is the result of a collaboration between the AASS and UNM Communications and Marketing Department Web team.
“The project came from a need to archive the Black experience at UNM in a way that students can engage with it in real time,” said program director Brandi Stone. “We wanted to expose students to the legacy of our Black community on our campus. We want student to understand the history and lived experiences of those that came before them. We also want to disrupt narratives that don't include the Black experience when talking about the University of New Mexico.”
Recently, AASS has begun to explore new opportunities to build Black students’ research identity, she explained. Visiting some museums in Alabama two years ago, she saw touchscreen timelines in a civil rights museum there and thought it might be an interesting concept to bring back to the UNM office.
The project was further inspired by Barbara Brown Simmons, an early founder of the Black studies program at UNM. She passed away in July 2022.
“This project became even more important to ensure we are documenting the contributions of our elders and alumni so that students understand how the work promoting diversity, equity and inclusion on our campus has foundational roots in the experiences of former Black students' social justice advocacy,” Stone noted.
Stone, senior student success specialist J Gourdin, and others from the department met with Matt Carter, director of UCAM Web Communications, web administrator Jayson Capps, and web designer Dave Jordan to see if the project was possible. Although Carter said he and his team hadn’t done a project like the touchscreen timeline before, they were eager to take it on.
“We already had several decades documented through posters of UNM news clippings centered on the Black experience. It felt like this would be a natural fit if the web team could make it work,” Stone said.
“What they were looking for was certainly different than the typical project we work on, so we were very excited to put our creativity into it,” Carter said. “The biggest challenge for the project was how the user experience needed to be different than something on a computer or mobile device. This was going to be a giant tv screen mounted on the wall above the users. We had to rethink how the users would interact with the screen from a different perspective.”
“There were some challenges in terms of working specifically with the device and adjusting to changing needs and ideas that came up during the testing process. It was a real honor to get to work on such an important project highlighting the diversity that's been present in the university for so long. It felt very important to be able to help bring that information out to the public," Jordan added.
The touchscreen now hangs in the main area of the AASS offices. Students can explore the site while in the office and community and alumni are also invited to visit.
The earliest bit of content on the touchscreen is the University's founding 1889, Gourdin noted, but the first Black history event isn’t until 40 years later in 1921 when UNM allowed open admission to all qualified students. The Albuquerque NAACP chapter was established in 1915 and in its inaugural year paid for student Birdie Hardin's registration to UNM as a challenge to the racial exclusion policy. Unfortunately, they were unsuccessful in helping Hardin enroll. However, six years later, UNM allowed admission to all qualified students, including African Americans.
Adding more history and information will be an ongoing project.
“The best part of this project is that we are exposing students to archival data collection,” Stone said. Student leaders worked on collecting the data to assist to build the site and will continue to upload data quarterly.
“Having our history easily accessible on our wall allows Black students to understand the legacy of excellence on this campus and the shoulders they are standing on. More importantly, the constant visibility of our history in the office creates an expectation that each student class is expected to contribute to our shared legacy,” Stone remarked.
"Of course, we want them to know they are a part of the larger campus community. But this archive allows them to build a sense of belonging and create an impact. It gives them additional purpose for their time here at UNM,” Gourdin said.
AASS thanks the Division for Equity and Inclusion under the leadership of vice president of Equity and Inclusion Assata Zerai for assisting in providing dates and content contributing to the timeline and Black History at UNM project.