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An Autoethnographic Narrative of Institutional Injustice: Queer Resilience through Use of Evidence and Memory

Donna Braquet, University of Tennessee

Table 1: Brief description of action items, reflexive questions that you and your staff might ask when considering each action item, and hypothetical scenarios contextualizing the action items and self-reflections.


    Action Item 


Hypothetical Scenario



Conduct an audit of which events, stories, communities, groups, and organizations you have prioritized in the past decade.

Do the results of the audit align with your GLAM’s commitment to diversity, inclusion and social justice? Do they align with those of your parent institution?

What is collected, processed, digitized, promoted and why? Are these decisions being made with a social justice framework in mind?

A wealthy alumnus who was on the swim team offers the library a large donation, but gift is contingent upon the money being spent to digitize the entire backfile of Swim Team Media Guides.


Determine which marginalized organizations and communities (MOCs) are in danger of their records being lost and be intentional about building relationships.

What groups, organizations or identities do not have formal representation within your parent institution? Which groups or communities are currently treated as outsiders at your institution and how would preserving their artifacts tell a more complete story of the university?

A student group on campus has caused an uproar because they offer a week of programming called Sex Week. The university comes under scrutiny by state politicians for allowing such “debauchery” on campus. Student leaders of the group are busy promoting the events and also fighting the pushback, and leadership turns over often because of burnout. Since the organization is not approved by the university, they do not have access to the student organization portal which provides a website, document storage, and rosters.


Build relationships and trust with MOCs on campus to ensure that they do not feel tokenized or used.

What is your GLAM’s involvement with MOCs in the past decade? How are you educating yourself and your staff about the issues related to collecting from MOCs? Do you want to build authentic relationships or are you prompted by a current event, trend, or motive?

Student athletes hold a march to protest local politician’s criticism of players kneeling before games to call attention to ongoing police brutality of Black and Brown people. The archivist has not attended the rallies or protests before, but this march has the approval of the chancellor and the football coach, so ze walks the route. Along the way ze sees a Black student carrying a sign that says, “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!” Ze introduces zirself as head of special collections and tells the student that the archive really wants that sign after the march.


Acknowledge to MOCs the lack of their past representation in the institution’s GLAMs and your current commitment to rectify that injustice.

Are you defensive or make excuses when historically underrepresented or marginalized students or faculty tell you that your GLAM is lacking? Have you and your staff acknowledged to yourselves that your representation of MOCs is deficient? Do you admit these shortcomings internally, as well as publicly? Have you brainstormed ways to rectify past inequities?

A gender non-conforming student wants to do their thesis on group identity formation in college using collections about LGBTQ student organizations on campus and contacts special collections through email. The archivist responds by saying, “Transgender people didn’t exist back then, all of this is just a fad. Even if they did, we would not have taken anything from them because it was against the law back then. You should either change your topic or go visit another archive in a more liberal town.”


Emphasize how MOC collections can provide future students with pathways for research, truth finding, or healing.

Have you ever considered your GLAM as a place of healing? Have you talked with your colleagues about how what you collect in the present day will determine whether future researchers are able to create new knowledge about those topics?

It is the 50th anniversary of desegregation at your university. The museum has a collection of photographs and videos from protests on campus following integration that show Black students being harassed, spat on, and taunted. The curator thinks the artifacts are important but does not want to open old wounds and wonders she should focus on just displaying the more positive, official images from loaned from the university archives.


Empower MOCs to document their own stories by providing supplies, funding, and training through workshops, internships, and jobs.

Knowing that many marginalized communities do not see themselves represented in GLAMs, how can you engage these communities by making your organization a place where they belong? How often do you ask MOCs for their artifacts compared to how often you offer expertise and assistance? How many people from marginalized communities work at your GLAM?

The manuscripts archivist approaches the directors of the campus identity centers about celebrating identity history months like Black History Month, Women’s History Month, LGBTQ History Month, etc. Xe offers to do monthly programs where xe would do a show-and-tell with artifacts about that particular community from the archive. Xe would also sets up tables during the program where students can check out an “Archive in a Backpack” containing a scanner, recorder, folders, camera, pencils, plastic clips, flash drives, etc. and can learn about archival principles and techniques. Xe also brings the Human Resources team leader to talk with students about jobs, internships, and practicums offered in special collections.


Prioritize archiving MOCs experiences during campus protests or other events involving social justice contemporaneously instead of trying to do so with hindsight.

What social justice movements have happened on your campus in the past decade? How many collections do you have that represent those and how did you come to get them? Are you acquiring them by happenstance or in a planned, strategic way? Do you have any mechanisms in place to allow for student organization and clubs to automatically donate their records? Are you aware of how archiving marginalized communities could make them more unsafe, in some cases?

A student group formed following Black Lives Matter protests happening around the country. They hold protests, teach-ins, and have even sent a list of demands to the university administration. The university archivist contacts the group president and sets up a meeting where ze discuss what ze can offer, such as a repository for their stories and artifacts, emphasizing ze is not surveilling the group but rather attempting to document their work. Ze’s read up on issues related to the complexities of documenting activism of marginalized communities from organizations like Project Stand ( and WITNESS ( and ze brainstorms with the student group how they would like the archives to be involved.


Affirm that documenting the voices of MOCs is imperative to telling the story of the institution, and that the GLAM is responsible for righting a historical, one-sided power dynamic.

What stories do you have in your GLAM that are critical of your parent institution? Has your organization self-censored what it collected in the past so to not put a negative spotlight on the university? Have you considered how your collections welcome certain patrons, while making other patrons feel unwelcomed? Have you had these types of discussions with the leaders of your GLAM and your university administration?

A student posted a video to TikTok where she imitated blackface and said the “n-word.” Black, Latinx, Queer, and other marginalized students called for the head of Student Life to be fired when he excused the video and refused to take disciplinary action. The students held rallies, talks, and even a hunger strike. People in your museum feel like the activism is the beginning of a campus awakening and should be documented for future research. At a museum department meeting a museum intern mentions wanting to collect the artifacts, but the museum director says “We’re not political. That’s the great thing about us. We’re neutral.”


Continue to collect, exhibit and promote campus issues and events related social justice even when not professionally en vogue or deemed acceptable by the institution.

What collections do you have that would have been seen as highly controversial at the time they were accessioned? Do you hold collections related to segregation, the Vietnam War, abortion, or HIV/AIDS, for instance? Would an exhibit of those collections be viewed differently then, compared to the present? What gaps are in your collections regarding past hot button issues?

Following the murder of George Floyd, students form a group called “Students to Defund the Police,” and call for the removal of police from campus. The Africana Studies Librarian read about similar happening at other institutions in The Chronicle of Higher Education. The librarian feels like the student group is part of a larger movement to address racial inequities and wants to create a LibGuide to compile these types of student movements on campuses around the country. However, the librarian worries about potential consequences if the library dean, campus administration, or campus police discover the website.


Reach out to individual students, faculty, or staff who are publicly targeted or wronged to offer the GLAM as a space for personal refuge and/or space to hold evidence.

What would it feel like to become ostracized, notoriously celebrated, or isolated due to a public controversy? Have there been instances like this happening at your institution? At your organization have you ever discussed how finding evidence of others’ struggles can therapeutic or how documenting one’s own experiences can be healing?

A professor who is a Black woman has recently been told to take down her research lab’s website on microaggressions because a conservative watch group discovered it and the story was picked up by national news outlets. Her colleagues, who didn’t want to be guilty by association, distanced themselves from her and didn’t invite her to be on the diversity council the next year. The archivist, who is familiar with the controversy assumes that the professor may feel isolated on a campus where she used to be well-connected. The archivist wonders if xe should reach out.