Review of University Images and Collections

During the past several months, there have been numerous national and regional news stories relating documented historical instances of “blackface” and other culturally inappropriate images.  As an expression of Gonzaga’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion manifested in the Mission Examen work, University Strategic Plan and recent meetings with student leaders, the University is conducting a review of its archives for images that are insensitive toward individual cultures and/or identities, as are many campuses nationwide.

A preliminary review of materials has found photos which either do, or appear to, depict “blackface” in past editions of the Spires yearbook and Gonzaga Bulletin, within the Rogues Gallery (College Hall), as well as similar images within the Bing Crosby and Wildin Sheet Music Collections owned by the University.  These images, thus far largely pre-date the mid-1980’s, emanate from a particular time and place in history, documenting the attitudes and events of those eras.  A complete review, led by Special Collections Librarian Stephanie Plowman, will involve researching a great amount of content, and is therefore not expected to be completed until the end of the summer.

These images do not convey a contemporary understanding of Gonzaga’s core values, which are to honor and respect the human dignity of all persons.  Nor do they reflect our commitment to greater diversity, or increased equity and inclusion.  Our University Mission Statement clearly articulates our values in this regard: “… The Gonzaga experience fosters a mature commitment to dignity of the human person, social justice, diversity, intercultural competence, global engagement, solidarity with the poor and vulnerable, and care for the planet.”

While many of us are personally saddened to learn that such images and other materials exist in our archives, Gonzaga will not attempt to erase or rewrite history by removing them.  The photos will remain, as they are today, publicly available.  These historical primary sources are a reminder that the need to educate for cultural sensitivity, and the challenge to deepen and expand equity and inclusion, is an ever-present one.  Once the archival review is complete, the University will implement a method of acknowledging the images within the Foley Center Library’s digital archives and Rogues Gallery, accompanied by statements of our values supporting diversity, equity and inclusion.  In addition, the presence of these images will be noted in the University timeline presented on Gonzaga’s diversity, equity and inclusion website.

With our decision not to edit, redact, excise or alter any of these materials, we are affirming what Carl Jung often claimed that “one does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making darkness conscious.”  Throughout history numerous human rights and social justice advocates have repeatedly emphasized the wisdom inherent in the notion that what we forget we always are, but what we remember we can change.  In doing so, we can avoid the pitfall of repeating history and learning from our community experience.

Upon completion of the review, the presence of culturally sensitive images will be discussed with faculty as a part of the monthly sessions of the Productive Discomfort Faculty Affinity Group hosted by the Chief Diversity Officer in collaboration with the Center for Teaching and Advising.  The materials may also serve as a resource for future faculty development workshops on inclusion and equity education in collaboration with the College of Arts & Sciences, the Critical Race Ethnic Studies (CRES) program, DICE and other stakeholder partners.

In the fall semester, we will host a campus forum to allow our community to discuss historic behaviors and activities, share one another’s views, and together reaffirm our commitment to be an inclusive and culturally aware community.  In the interim, please feel free to reach out to Dr. Raymond Reyes, Associate Academic Vice President & Chief Diversity Officer, at ext. 6550 if you wish to discuss this matter.  In addition, contact Stephanie Plowman, Special Collections Librarian & Associate Professor, at ext. 3847 if you are aware of material in any University publication that should be included in this review.

Thayne M. McCulloh, D.Phil., President
Raymond Reyes, Ph.D., Associate Academic VP & Chief Diversity Officer
Paul Bracke, Ph.D., Dean, Foley Library

March 26, 2019