Introduction by Sarah Jane Kline ’21
My study began in the Davidson College Archives, Special Collections, and Community uncovering images, photographs, and stories yet to be told about “Black study” at Davidson College (Davidson). The photographs I found piqued my interest in representations of Black staff members in conceptualizing Black study at Davidson, a predominantly white institution. A study of these photographs, along with concomitant research, quickly coalesced into a multi-generational and historically informed understanding of Black study at Davidson. More specifically, my project chronologically traces photographs of Black “staff,” “personnel,” and “auxiliary” employees from the late 19th century to late 20th century. This tracing of photographs reveals the ways in which these Black staff members, and their positionality at and on Davidson, are crucial to framing Black study as the foundation-layers for the success of academic study at Davidson and as a site for analysis about Black study’s relationship to Black people on campus. I seek to trouble the treatment of Davidson’s Black staff as operating in the periphery of its academic study through an analysis of my photographic archive that depicts Black staff members whose life works supported Davidson’s operation, its students, its faculty, and its studies; they, too, are an integral part of knowledge production at the college. Thus, I analyze eight photographs to address first how an analysis of Black study at Davidson, in the historical moments of each of my photographs and in the present moment, must consider Black staff members on campus. Accordingly, I ultimately argue that these photographs demonstrate how Black staff members were always involved in a conceptualization of “Black study” and knowledge production at Davidson even if not formally legitimized or recognized by the institution.
Methodology by Sarah Jane Kline ’21
After outlining the breadth and subject of my project’s goals, I want to put forth a recognition and parts of my methodology for its construction. First, I recognize my own personal limitations in making this argument, telling this story, and analyzing these representations; my analysis hopes to uncover a long history of Black study present at Davidson. However, I would not dare to assume or prescribe an experience onto the individuals within these photographs, rather I attempt to analyze these photographs to make some historical and theoretical claims about Black staff members’ physical and metaphysical relationships to the idea of “Black study” at Davidson as depicted in the photographs themselves. I intend to look more closely at a relational dynamic between Black staff and Black study. Therefore, my positionality as a white woman studying Africana Studies at Davidson in the year of 2020 presents obvious limitations in terms of my personal experience and lack thereof. I am aware of the extent to which my experience at Davidson then perhaps limits my ability to fully understand the experiences of the individuals in the photographs in which I am addressing, on a personal and historical level. Nevertheless, it is my project’s ambition to contribute to a greater understanding of stories yet to be told about Black study through this photographic archive of Black staff members, but even still, my identity should be examined, recognized, and remembered throughout this work. In terms of specific methodologies, I rely heavily on three major frameworks. The first of which Willis (1994) defines as a project “challenging white perceptions of black inferiority” by “identifying the breadth and depth of experiences of black people as recorded in photographs” (p. 13). Challenging notions of Black inferiority remains crucial to reading Black staff on college campuses into the narrative of Black study. Secondly, I rely on Crawley’s (2018) idea that contesting the “university” as a place for knowledge production means asking the question of “how we would attempt to produce knowledge, in a decolonial way that affirms the life worlds of the excluded” (p. 215). I apply the life worlds of Black staff as those commonly excluded by and from Black study at Davidson. Finally, I am influenced by Sharpe’s (2016) notion of “annotation towards seeing and reading otherwise; toward reading and seeing something in excess of what is caught in the frame” (p. 117). With these modes of thought in play, I strive to position Black staff at Davidson as “framers,” “foundation-layers,” and “participants” of the idea and the act of Black study at Davidson. Through the photographs, I push against ideas of Black study as “thought-work” only, that is, exclusive to the labor of the minds of the students and faculty while ignoring the labor of the of the bodies of other individuals within the college.