Clarksville, TN – In the spring of 1979, a small group of students successfully challenged their school in a landmark court case – the Student Coalition for Gay Rights v. Austin Peay State University (APSU). They were fighting for their right to exist as a student group after receiving official notice that their new organization “had no place at Austin Peay.”
The students’ activism allowed their young club to become an official APSU student organization – now the Gender and Sexuality Alliance – which recently celebrated its 42nd anniversary.
About 10 years after that court case, another group of student activists questioned the prevailing climate at Austin Peay State University.
According to the APSU Wilbur N. Daniel African American Cultural Center’s website, “African American students at Austin Peay State University challenged the University’s community to recognize the contemporary, historical, socio-political, and intellectual contributions of African Americans. Those students were adamant about their need to have a place that celebrated and consistently displayed the salience of the African American experience.”
Their fight led to the establishment, in 1991, of that important cultural center, and now the APSU Woodward Library is celebrating these acts of bravery with a new collection focused on student activism.
“We attended a conference late last year that introduced us to Project STAND (Student Activism Now Documented),” Scott Shumate, IT analyst for the library’s digital services, said. “Austin Peay State University has been at the forefront of social movements several times. We want to document these historical events, and also give students and community members a way to submit items to be added to this collection so current and future events, such as Black Lives Matter, are documented and included in our archive.”
The collection will be housed within ASPIRE, Austin Peay State University’s institutional repository, where items can be viewed and searched digitally. The site is still being developed but should be ready later this spring.
“I’m currently digitizing all our photographs, and I’m going to pick some out that will be appropriate for this,” Sarah Myers, library assistant, said. “We’ll have photos and newspaper articles and donated materials.”
Shumate said they intend for this site to be a “living collection,” that keeps growing with submissions from students and University community members. Those items will then be shared to better tell the story of student activism at Austin Peay State University.
“Part of the student experience is learning and growing and finding a place in the world,” Shumate said. “As people try and find their place in the world, they want to improve things and make a difference. You see it all over the country. Students are more and more active in their communities, and we want to acknowledge that these historical contributions need to be documented and preserved.”