The Queer Resource Center of the Claremont Colleges (QRC) teamed up with the Pomona College Museum of Art for a special exhibition to introduce their “Queer [His/Her/Their]story Project” at Art After Hours on Nov. 7. The project consists of an archive of oral interviews and will soon be preserved in the Honnold/Mudd Library’s Special Collections.
Designed by the Queer Life Project Team, the exhibit consists of rainbow yarn juxtaposed with photographs of people who completed surveys or oral histories, quotations from interviews, and three computers where attendees could listen to audio-recorded interviews. The project aims to celebrate the contributions made by LGBTQIA individuals as they navigate the Claremont Consortium today and to highlight the QRC’s ongoing effort to preserve material stories of people in the LGBTQIA communities here in Claremont.
The event was organized and presented by QRC graduate assistant and Claremont Graduate University Ph.D. student Appy Frykenberg alongside QRC student staffer Olivia Buntaine SC ’15. Additionally, Michael Palmer, Claremont resident and David Drier Congressional Papers Archivist in the Special Collections at Honnold/Mudd, spoke about his role in helping to preserve these archives.
Buntaine came up with the idea for the “Queer [His/Her/Their]story Project” last year when she was taking an oral histories class at Scripps. In the class, every student had the opportunity to conduct their own interview with a Scripps alumna, which was then added to an archive.
“At this point, I fell in love with oral history as a concept. There was and is something very beautiful to me about creating our own history, about asking the ones who were there and constructing our understanding of a time or an event based off of the lived experience of individuals,” Buntaine said.
When one of Buntaine’s managers at the QRC showed her several binders filled with written surveys and stories about LGBTQIA-identified individuals at the 5Cs dating back to as early as 1929, Buntaine was inspired by her understanding of oral history to bring these past stories to the present, as well as to initiate the process of remembering.
“It was really amazing to hold all of those stories in my hands and think about how those were the individuals who paved the way for myself and my peers to be here,” Buntaine said. “It’s been really amazing to work on it, not only as a moment of history, but one of activism and respect for this community that I feel very privileged to be a part of.”
Buntaine would not have been able to carry out the project without the logistical help of Frykenberg. Together, and along with several other QRC staffers, they created a set of questions and spent the past year scheduling interviews with both alumni and people on campus today. They began by putting out general flyers that read “Do you want to share your story with us? Great!” to which they received a significant number of responses via e-mail from not only current students, but alumni as well.
“So, what I got to do, and it was a really big privilege and honor, was get to be the person on the other end that said, ‘Yes, we want your story!’ over and over again, and I think that that was a very powerful moment for me and it was a powerful moment in building community in general,” Frykenberg said.
The Art After Hours showcase both commemorated the end of LGBTQ month, which was in October, and celebrated the past year that the QRC has spent collecting archives and conducting interviews. The Pomona College Museum of Art was very enthusiastic about the project, as well as the prospect of sharing this moment with the QRC and the greater Claremont community. Much of the project’s intention is to bring people together, like the eclectic group of students and faculty of the 5Cs, through our shared history.
“There’s something very rich about having someone receive your story while you’re telling it. One of the reasons we kept the project going was because of that moment. For me, it really was very much about immediate community building,” Frykenberg said. “We’re not only doing his, her, their stories to last and to maybe look at later, but the notion that when you have one person and another person sitting in an intentional space to share a story and to receive a story, both of those people are learning something about each other. I think [this] is a really beautiful way that speaks to the fact that communities are made up of a lot of varied experiences from a lot of very different people.”
According to Frykenberg, Honnold/Mudd Special Connections had been looking to collect LGBTQIA histories from the Claremont community. They approached the QRC about preserving their surveys in a more long-lasting, meaningful way.
“It’s a project for everyone associated with the community LGBTQIA. It’s for allies, too. It’s open. You don’t need a resume,” Frykenberg said. “We want to hear people’s stories because their stories are important.”
If you are interested in participating in an interview for the “Queer [His/Her/Their]story Project,” contact the QRC through their website, http://www.pomona.edu/administration/qrc/, or visit them on Pomona’s campus, open Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.