Friday, March 1, 2019

Marginalized Spaces

Front cover of Dartmouth's dormitory room layouts and prices
What do the physical spaces that we occupy on campus say about our identities and our experiences? I’ve become increasingly interested in the ways that geography influences our experiences. Thinking about the physical allocation of space on campus, it is hard not to draw conclusions. The African and African American Studies Department, Native American Studies Department, the Latin American and Caribbean House, Shabazz (the Black student dorm), the Chinese Language House, and the Native American House are all located in one small segment of campus. While some may argue the close proximity of the majority of cultural and affinity hubs is indicative of nothing more than logistical convenience, their respective locations parallel the institutional commitment to these marginalized communities. Dartmouth’s sites dedicated to nonwhite and nonwestern people are stowed away in a corner of campus that one would likely only migrate to if forced to seek out nonwhite academic engagement or communities of color.

But, what happened before these centers existed? Was campus similarly geographically bound by divisions? As a Dartmouth Library Historical Accountability Student Research Fellow for the Winter 2019 term, this has been one of the questions that my research at Rauner sought to answer. I am particularly interested in examining the intersections of race and class with respect to Black and Jewish students in the early 20th century.

Given the relative dearth of information about these students, I turned to the physical locations of
Dorm layout for Streeter Hall showing relative room costs
students. Because each dorm was priced individually, class and race based segregation were a very real possibility and fairly easy to track down. My research took me to Budd Schulberg’s papers. Schulberg  ’36 was a Jewish student active in Pi Lambda Phi fraternity (one of two fraternities that accepted Jewish students) who went on to become a novelist and screenwriter. Schulberg’s papers contain significant correspondences and other communications. Related to my project, the collection also contains a pamphlet of dorm locations and prices from 1932. Inside the slightly faded sheets are floor plans for all of the dorms as well as room descriptions and prices.

To compound these dorm prices, I looked for information about where students (particularly Black students and Jewish students) lived. I found that many of the Jewish students did not live on campus which makes me think that their decisions to reside off campus may have had a lot to do with anti-Semitism present on campus. It is noted in some Dartmouth student senior theses examining the Jewish experience that overt discrimination was not very common because most students knew that it was better to keep their prejudiced views to themselves. However, there was an understanding that being Jewish inherently otherized those students so much so that in the early 20th century (and likely beyond) many Jewish students decided to not engage with or deliberately hide their religion. Embedded within this discussion of discrimination, race is mentioned as an addendum: the College had a Jewish controversy and a Jewish and Black problem.

Front page of a Washington Post article about Grayson McGuireStill, thinking about geography as one potential manifestation of inequality presents a compelling lens to think about the experiences of Jewish and Black students. Robert Grayson “Mac” McGuire Jr ’32, the only Black alumni in the class of 1932, lived in Streeter 111 during his senior year. (I lived on the second floor of Streeter my sophomore fall.) The cost of McGuire’s room was fairly cheap in comparison to other rooms on campus; it only cost him $200 for the year which, adjusted for inflation, would be about $3,700 in 2019 dollars. Interestingly, McGuire came from a relatively well-off family and was described as both attuned to the needs of the Black community and “almost white”. Perhaps the author of the article sought to emphasize McGuire’s supposed good qualities, but I read the piece as overtly racialized in a manner that continued to privilege whiteness as the standard to which one should aspire. This article as indicative of the conceptualization of one of the few Black alums from the era coupled with the ways in which dorms were priced and the overall treatment of Jewish students presents more questions than answers. Nevertheless, these documents contribute to an evolving and essential dialogue about intersectionality and the lived experience of Dartmouth’s marginalized communities.

To learn more about Robert Grayson McGuire Jr. '32, come to Rauner and ask to see his alumni file. For more about Budd Schulberg, come and ask to see his papers (MS-978).

Posted for Alexandrea Keith '20, recipient of a Historical Accountability Student Research Fellowship for the 2019 Winter term. The Historical Accountability Student Research Fellowships provide full funding for a current Dartmouth student to conduct research with primary sources during an off-term on a topic related to issues of inclusivity and diversity in the college's past. For more information, visit the fellowship's website.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Christmas Premonitions

1938 Christmas card sent out by Dilys and Alex Laing
This coming Saturday would have been the 105th birthday of Theodor Geisel '25, known the world over as children's author Dr. Seuss. While looking for some way to note this day via blog post, we stumbled upon a shocking discovery that derailed our search and instead led us to another momentous anniversary of a completely different kind. This year, 2019, marks the 80th year since the Third Reich invaded Poland and triggered the formal beginning of World War II. How did we get from Seuss to the Sudetenland, you ask? Through a Christmas card sent by one of Geisel's college buddies, Prof. Alexander Laing '25, in December of 1938.

While in school with Geisel, Laing had written a poem that humorously explained the proper pronunciation of "Seuss" (more like "zoice" than "soose"). Hoping to find an original version of this poem in Laing's alumni file, we instead stumbled upon the card. It contains numerous racist images and statements that were culturally acceptable at the time and emphasizes that the Laings are boycotting Japanese, German, and Italian wares, ostensibly because of the political stances and actions of those three countries. To put the card in context, without being an apologist for its content, it's worth noting that Laing was a major social activist for positive change on campus and beyond. In particular, we've blogged before about his strong efforts to eliminate a longstanding Dartmouth policy that limited the number of Jewish students on campus.

What's also fascinating about the card, aside from its casual racism, is the way that it accurately predicts the formation of the Rome-Berlin-Tokyo Axis more than nine months before World War II formally began with the invasion of Poland. Although the writing was likely very clearly on the wall by then, given the anti-communist agreement that the three countries (and Spain) had all recently entered, it's still fascinating to see evidence of it. It also makes one wonder about whether or not people had any inkling that this ideological alliance would eventually become a global military power.

Between dropping out of college before graduation and the mailing of that card, Laing had experienced a fascinating and winding life journey. He was a trade journal editor and a seaman for a while before returning to Dartmouth to be a tutorial advisor and then eventually finish his undergraduate degree in 1933. By 1938, Laing had become an assistant librarian at the college and he eventually went on to be a lecturer in English before being named professor of belles lettres in 1966. He died in 1976 in a bicycle accident in Norwich near the Ledyard Bridge.

To see the Christmas card, or several other ones that were drawn much later by his third wife, Veronica Ruzicka, come to Rauner and ask to see the alumni file for Alexander Laing '25.