In August 2018, President Connie Ledoux Book announced the launch of the Elon Commemoration Project, an initiative to engage previously unexplored aspects of our institutional history in a transparent, participatory and intellectually rigorous manner. In this work, Elon joins a number of peer and aspirant schools who are committed to revisiting the stories institutions of higher education tell about themselves. The Elon Commemoration Project will not only inventory and examine what aspects of our history are visible—through our named buildings, university traditions and course offerings, for instance—but also draw out histories left untold. Some of these memories may be painful, including our institution’s shortcomings when serving black students for decades. Other memories will bring to the forefront stories that offer inspiration, such as that of Jeanne Hook Harrell ’45, Elon’s first female student body president. Her election is not only a moment worth acknowledging at Elon but also an excellent illustration of larger social trends at the height of World War II. The Elon Commemoration Project will encourage students, faculty, staff and others to actively engage with the university’s history in and outside of the classroom, and, over time, will help the Elon community regularly reflect on significant people, places and moments from our past to inform the future.
To be equipped for the tasks of supporting ongoing and initiating new conversations related to historical memory and collective identity, the Provost will appoint a university-wide committee of 12 faculty, staff and students in September 2018.
Members of this steering committee will not serve as gatekeepers of the institutiton’s history. Rather, their charge will be to engage the broader community in important conversations about our shared past; inspire those with relevant training and expertise to uncover hidden stories; advise those seeking to tell a more democratic and rigorous version of our story; and share the excellent work students, faculty and staff are already doing.
The past, as it actually happened, is gone—unrecoverable in its full glory and accessible to us only through the most fragmentary accounts. We cannot reproduce it or return to it. We can, however, think more carefully about why we choose to remember and commemorate the things we do. This will doubtless lead us to revisit some familiar accounts, including, for instance, the story of Alamance County “Before Elon.” Faculty experts and tribal historians have already agreed to enrich this section of our university website by offering a fuller account of Native people. We might ask as well how different the account would be if we took more care to attend to the perspectives of the black men and women who made their homes on what is now university property—or to the two most dramatic events in the county’s history: the 1770 Battle of Alamance and the inspirational rise and tragic 1870 lynching of Wyatt Outlaw by white supremacists. It is our most earnest hope that in drawing out these and other stories we might equip one another more fully to work for the common good.
Much more to come as the committee gathers steam. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.