In 1968, Barnard’s black students founded The Barnard Organization of Soul Sisters (B.O.S.S.) to foster community among Barnard’s black students. It also served as a platform for combating the challenges of being black women at a predominately white and female institution, as well as the patriarchal structure of neighboring Columbia University’s Student Afro-American Society. While B.O.S.S. did not initially organize for the purpose of engaging in student activism, they were inspired by the building takeover at Columbia University and the social movements of the era. On February 24, 1969, B.O.S.S. presented ten demands to Barnard’s administration, urging them to implement changes to improve their student experiences, such as creating an Afro-American studies major, hiring black faculty, increasing black student enrollment, improving financial aid, providing a dedicated living space for black students, creating a space for a black student union, serving soul food in the cafeteria, and ending harassment by campus security guards. Many students and faculty were not receptive to these demands. The administration further called for discussions with B.O.S.S, not necessarily to meet their demands. B.O.S.S. rejected the response and instead clarified their position and later engaged in an open discussion with their peers, faculty, and administrators. By spring 1969, B.O.S.S. gained traction when the administration met some of the demands, including hiring three black professors, offering black studies courses, and a lounge in one of the dormitories. B.O.S.S. activism did not end in 1969. Their members, even to this day, advocate for continued inclusivity.
The Barnard Organization of Soul Sisters Collection is 3.92 linear feet and includes organizational records ranging from 1968-2013, including letters, notes, membership rosters, meeting minutes, speeches, reports, photographs, booklets, pamphlets, brochures, flyers, memorabilia, and newspaper clippings. In 2019, Barnard Archives partnered with members and alumnae of Barnard Organization of Soul Sisters to celebrate their 50th anniversary and to honor the founding members. They also created an exhibition to both educate the campus community about the BOSS’s history of activism, and also to facilitate critical discussion around the 1969 demands and the current student experience at Barnard.
Citation: [Documents, March-April 1969], Allen Building Takeover Collection, Duke University Archives, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.
“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
Student activism has and continues to serve as a critical component to the development of a truly democratic society. The collections featured here are from various colleges and universities and they highlight the struggles, victories, and challenges of student movements throughout history.
Connect with these participating institutions to learn more.
In the fall of 2016, Project STAND (Student Activism Now Documented) was established to initially bring together academic institutions across the state of Ohio and discuss ways to share information about the collections and materials related to student activism on their campuses, with a primary focus on marginalized student identities (African American, LGBTQ, Chicano/a, differently abled, Asian Americans, indigenous populations etc.) This exciting initiative was initially conceived by Lae’l Hughes-Watkins, University Archivist at Kent State University who reached out to Tamar Chute, University Archivist at The Ohio State University, on the possibility of creating a centralized hub for academic archives focusing on underrepresented communities’ engagement in social justice activities on and off campus.
Project STAND is an online clearinghouse where academic institutions can provide researchers a centralized access point to historical and archival documentation on the development and on-going occurrences of student dissent. Project STAND focuses on digital and analog primary sources that document the activities of student groups that represent the concerns of historically marginalized communities (e.g., African American, Chicano/a, LGBTQ, religious minorities, disabled, etc.). STAND will also highlight the work of others (e.g., faculty, staff, and administrators) who advocate for or support the interests of those communities.
More information about participating institutions can be found here.
Interested in joining Project Stand? Please submit some information about your institution’s collection.