Lafayette Queer Archives Project Oral History Interviews
The Queer Archives Project’s turn towards oral history interviews aligns it with an approach to queer history that has been central to the field since its emergence in the 1970s. The decision to interview LGBTQ+ members of the Lafayette community stems from the familiar choice to use oral history as a way to address being stymied by the appearance of “archival emptiness” and/or a lack of materials explicitly associated with the lives of queer people.
As part of an online digital humanities project fundamentally designed to be both publicly available and actively disseminated, we knew interviews associated with the QAP could be subject to relatively high levels of exposure. Therefore, although oral history interviews are not subject to Institutional Research Board (IRB) review, we submitted a proposal to the Lafayette IRB which, in turn, formally exempted our work. QAP interviewees complete and sign “Informed Consent” forms, as well as a “Special Collections and Archives Release Form” that enables them to make provisions for any literary property rights, including copyright.
In a testimony to the College’s deeply conservative nature, Lafayette did not have a network for queer-identified alums (or faculty/staff) when the oral history part of the QAP began in 2016. To connect with interviewees, we reached out to LGBTQ+ alumni leaders who had already actively lobbied the College for change around queer issues and we also relied on word of mouth. At our request, the Office of Alumni Relations hosted the College’s first-ever meeting for LGBTQ+ alums. This gathering marked the start of Lafayette’s LGBTQ+ affiliation group “The Pride Network” and is an early example of the QAP successfully driving institutional change.
As people signaled interest in the QAP, we ran a pilot interview with a longtime faculty colleague who was out on campus and open about her lesbian identity (Van Dyke). Subsequent interviewees were selected based on multiple criteria but the subject’s age has always been (and remains) a primary consideration. The project aims for a wide variety of identities across the queer spectrum, as well as “diversity” in the broadest intersectional sense. In response to Lafayette’s history of systemic exclusion, we decided early on that the QAP would prioritize interviews with women, trans and genderqueer folks, and people of color whenever possible. All interviews are in-person and the vast majority have taken place on the Lafayette campus in Easton, PA. Two interviews took place in California, one in New York, and one in Connecticut.
My own identity has played a role in terms of both engaging potential interviewees and shaping the interviews themselves. When discussing the QAP with an interested alumnus, I make certain that the individual knows I have identified as a queer woman and a lesbian since my late teenage years. I also tell all interviewees that I graduated from The College of the Holy Cross in 1987 and that Holy Cross was listed alongside Lafayette in the 1992 Princeton Review. Although I am not a Lafayette alum, interviewees know I have first-person knowledge of what it feels like to live day-to-day as a queer-identified individual at a small, homophobic liberal arts college. This semi-parallel experience has gone a long way to increasing ease and rapport. Every QAP interview is loosely structured by a series of “memory jogging” topics that range across generic aspects of student life: academic experiences, social life, clubs and organizations, athletics, and Greek life, as well as any memorable LGBTQ+ related public moments or events. At the beginning of every interview, I remind the interviewee that the QAP is interested in their story, that “questions” are merely prompts, and that they are welcome to reflect on any aspect of their college experience in any way they wish.
Transcripts are professionally prepared by a transcription service. Interviewees review their transcripts to clarify any issues with the transcription. Every interview is reviewed by two members of the QAP Team before the transcript is posted alongside an audio version. The names of any “outed” living individuals who are not known to be out are redacted.