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From Silence to Resilience: Capturing LGBTQIA+ Stories through Oral Histories

by Ashlynn Steiner

When initially given the task to explore the history of USM, I eagerly looked into the different aspects of our campus. The University of Southern Mississippi, located in the greater Hattiesburg area, has played a crucial role in various historical events, one notably being the Civil Rights Movement. The McCain Library and Archives stand as a great source of information concerning many facets of campus life. There are documents with details ranging from Clyde Kennard's tragic story to insights from Women's Student Handbooks of the 1960s, along with other campus experiences Contrasting this information with my present-day understanding of the campus highlights discernible shifts in our campus culture over time. Focusing on student newspapers, particularly editions of the Student Printz from 1970 to 1975, revealed a notable absence of discussion about LGBTQIA+ students or communities on campus. Given the time and location in the Deep South, it was unsurprising to discover that queer narratives and experiences remained undocumented within our university’s archive.

In an effort to broaden the archive on sexuality and gender, I undertook a personal LGBTQIA+ Oral History project involving three students at USM. The project aimed to emphasize the important role of oral histories in documenting ongoing history, especially in preserving LGBTQIA+ experiences. These oral histories can offer future generations insights into the struggles and triumphs of the queer community, specifically on our own campus. The goal of my project is to document the diverse backgrounds and experiences of queer students, while also capturing their perspectives on how campus administration can promote greater acceptance and recognition of the queer community. With guidance from Dr. Kevin Greene at the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage and utilizing resources like the “How to Do Oral History” guide from the Smithsonian Institution Archives, I gained comprehensive knowledge about the process and purpose of conducting oral histories. Despite the modest scale of my project, I aspire for it to inspire others to explore and document these often-overlooked histories from the past.