Denise Fanuiel’s senior portrait, 1977 Quips and Cranks.
Authored by Phoebe Son Oh ’21 in “Investing in Radical Black Feminist Counterhistory“
last updated 02.09.2021
In this first image, we see a young woman named Denise Fanuiel who is a Psychology major, based on the text given. Although the photo does not indicate this, Renée Denise Fanuiel was the first Black woman to graduate from Davidson College in 1977. We can see from this picture that she is a dark-skinned Black woman with a short curly hairdo. She wears large square glasses, a turtleneck, and a patterned dress on top. She has one hand resting on the brick wall of the infamous Davidson Old Well, and she stands in front of the water fountain of the well. The location of this image, as well as Denise’s actual positioning in the photograph itself, are extremely powerful for several reasons. First, it is a well-known legend/tradition at Davidson that if two sweethearts kiss under the well, they will get married in the future. Not only does this superstitious tradition reinforce heternormative ideals of love and marriage, it also ignores and whitewashes the fact that at one point Black folks were not allowed to drink from the well. Secondly, Fanuiel’s positioning also serves as a visual representation of her refusal of Davidson’s white supremacist and heteronormative standards, as she stands noticeably in front of the fountain with her back turned to it. Understanding the significance of this location, as well as Davidson’s own violent relationship with enslavement and institutional racism, only makes this image of Fanuiel all the more revolutionary.
This image represents the resiliency Fanuiel must have had as one of the only Black women at Davidson, but is also telling of the isolating reality and misogynoir she most certainly experienced on campus. Davidson became co-educational in 1973, and in this inaugural class of women, there were only four Black women. According to a 2018 Davidson Journal article, the other Black women besides Fanueil were: Julia Deck, Debra Kyle and Marian Perkins. However, only Marian Perkins and Denise Fanuiel graduated from Davidson, and both Debra Kyle and Julia Deck “withdrew from Davidson without graduating” (Christian-Lamb, 2018). This Davidson Journal article is where I first found this image of Denise Fanuiel. The article centered Black hetero-cis male experiences, and only left two short paragraphs near the end to write about the first Black women at Davidson. This piece is a perfect example of how both Davidson and its archives fail Black women and femmes. To have an entire article entitled “Early Student Reflections on Integration at Davidson,” and not even write in-depth at least one of the Black women’s experiences, or even get a singular quote from them, is intentional violence and erasure. The article lacks reflexivity, and ahistorically depicts the experiences of Davidson’s early Black students. But I do not expect reflexivity from an institution that has always denied the humanity of Black folks, which is why it is time to divest from the academy and invest in the counterhistory that centers Blackness. The counterhistory and counter-archives also provides a space that privileges a radical Black imagination, and can show us “a different way of seeing” and even “feeling” these images (Kelley, 2002, 11).