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Voices of UCI’s Past

Photo Courtesy of Yini Chen

by Jessica Resendez

When school assignments call for research these days, the typical response is to fish for information online. Sure, scholarly articles and eBooks satisfy minimum research requirements, but what about something physical — something you can turn over in your hands and feel the fibers of history captured in its rawest essence?

History came alive on January 12 when UCI’s Special Collections and Archives team hosted an exhibition filled with historical artwork, poems, pictures, and other written works collected from UCI students, staff, and community donors over the years. It was held inside the Orange County and Southeast Asian Archives, where artifacts lay sprawled on tables with themes ranging from student activism to systemic racism.

“One of the major goals for archives, and libraries in particular, is to connect the past with the present,” said Dr. Krystal Tribbett, UCI’s Oral Historian and Documentation Projects Coordinator.

As one of the event’s key coordinators, Tribbett has been piecing together moments of UCI history to encourage more students to utilize the Special Collections and Archives center, located on the fifth floor of Langson Library. Her goal is to have students experience real conversations and ideas documented in past UCI periodicals and artwork to ask themselves, “how do we respond to that [now]?”

On a table at the event titled Women’s Rights and LGBT Rights, an old periodical from 1996 called “The Womyn’s Quarterly” depicts a hand-drawn sketch of three women on the cover. Two of the women are dressed in modern t-shirts and jeans with picket signs scattered behind them saying things like “My Uterus My Choice” and “Hillary For President.”  

“These are not necessarily new topics. There are things people have been thinking about and concerned with for years,” said Tribbett.

Sifting through other materials displayed on a student activism table, Tribbett pulled out a canary yellow flier from 1969 — only four years younger than UCI itself. On the left side of the flier was a silhouette profile of a man with a Pinocchio nose and a protruding chin. “Now more than ever!! Demand that Nixon & Co. sign the peace agreement and abide by it,” the flier exclaims, urging people to rally on January 20, 1969 in downtown Santa Ana — otherwise known as the inauguration date of America’s 37th president, Richard Nixon.  

“We also have [several] things talking about boycotting classes for no draft,” said Tribbett, pointing to a periodical from the early seventies called the, “Real University.” With accompanying sketches of clenched fists in the air and fierce faces of a diverse student body, the students planned to boycott the draft on a Monday in response to the Vietnam war.

New clubs and organizations on campus were also starting to take shape during that time. In 1978, the first meeting of UCI’s Black Student Union (BSU) urged all black students to “be there” at the Cross Cultural Center. Other written works like “El Mestizo” (a bilingual newsletter) and a pamphlet for a “Third World Poetry Recital” depict images celebrating culture and “Chicano Power” in connection to the Migrant Education Consortium for Higher Achievement (M.E.C.H.A).

With all these delicate artifacts set out on display in clear plastic sleeves that sometimes required gloves to view them, it’s easy to ask yourself: should I touch it? But Tribbett says that yes, students should come in and be unafraid to look.

“We’re so used to looking for things online for answers when we actually have things right on the 5th floor that are physical, that you can come see,” said Tribbett.

The voices embedded into each piece of artifact were like time capsules jetting people back into the past. It wasn’t just words or drawings scribbled on pieces of paper. Rather, it was somebody with real-life concerns and emotions jumping out of the page, taking you by the hand, and exposing you to similar tensions and issues as those still going on today. Walking down memory lane with students fighting similar fights we face today is a reminder to us all that history has a way of repeating itself. It’s up to us whether we choose to listen and learn, or ignore and face the consequences.