Archival Materials into Documentary Film
Student Commentary by Kim Weber
¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 During the fall 2011 semester, I was a part of Lehigh University’s Theories of Masculinity class, an upper-level English and Women’s Studies course. Initially, I signed up for it because it was a prerequisite for graduating with department honors. As part of this course, we created a documentary film on coeducation and its effects on men and masculinity at Lehigh, which is currently celebrating its fortieth anniversary of admitting female students. My role in this film became a challenging and ultimately very rewarding part of my education at Lehigh.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Creating the film required extensive use of Lehigh University’s Special Collections. As someone unfamiliar with the process of researching in the archives, I was unaware of the extensive time and effort such an undertaking required. Yet, it was through delving into the pages and pages of yearbook photos from the late 1960s and early 1970s, and seeing headlines from that time in The Brown and White, Lehigh’s student newspaper, that I began to appreciate the power of the project our class was creating. This project allowed me to see the trajectory of Lehigh’s transition to a coeducational institution, a transition colored by many challenges, including sexism. These challenges are not easily visible in 2011, forty years later, so seeing the headlines and pictures in the archives literally, and in a unique way, demonstrated the hurdles women had to face at Lehigh. Some were the only girls in their classes, and all had to overcome being seen simply as weekend entertainment for the male students, as was the case for the women who were bussed in and out on Saturdays from nearby Cedar Crest College prior to coeducation (see Figure 1). I had been taking my role as a woman on Lehigh’s campus for granted, and this process really made me consider the journey that others had taken to provide me with such an opportunity.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 The archives played a major role in our documentary. The images and video clips we found provided evidence of our claims about the challenges women came up against at a conservative institution transitioning to coeducation, and in a way that our words alone could not do justice to. Simply hearing about the awkward mixers held before coeducation was implemented is not as powerful as seeing pictures of wide-eyed men groping at women, or of the huge amounts of alcohol they consumed at these parties. Lehigh’s archives are not used nearly enough. I am embarrassed to admit that as a first-semester senior English major I am just now getting my first taste of their value. It is my hope that our documentary project will serve as a positive example of the power that these resources can provide to our university. As these images fade further and further into the past, students have the chance to keep them alive in our contemporary work by using them in various classes and research projects. I hope that our documentary project can show the university, and especially other students like me who may not have known the extent of the material available, the value of these resources to the legacy of our institution and the appreciation of our education.