Preserving records of student activism on campus, including Black Justice League efforts

Black Justice League sit-in

In fall 2015, the Black Justice League organizes a sit-in at Nassau Hall to dismantle racism on campus. Photo by Ryan Maguire, Princeton University

Archivists at Princeton University Library (PUL) are working to preserve student activism on campus for future generations, within the Princeton University Archives housed in the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library

“Preserving an organization’s history can enable future students to build upon its legacy,” said Valencia Johnson, project archivist for student life. “High turn-over in student leadership can lead to gaps in institutional memory and waning momentum in long-term activism projects. A way to combat these effects is preserving the organization’s records.”

A search for “Black Justice League” (BJL) in PUL’s Finding Aids yields documentation of the student organization’s efforts to dismantle racism on Princeton’s campus from 2014 to 2016. Researchers can access BJL’s Facebook page, Medium page, Twitter feed, Google Drive files, and #OccupyNassau Petition through the Library site. 

In fall 2015, BJL organized and led a two-day sit-in at Nassau Hall in protest of, among other issues, the use of Woodrow Wilson’s image and name on campus. These efforts just recently led to results when the Princeton University Board of Trustees voted on June 26, 2020 to remove Wilson’s name from the School of Public and International Affairs and First College. 

In addition to BJL records, the Archiving Student Activism at Princeton (ASAP) Collection preserves individual and organizational records created by Princeton students who engage in activism related to a range of political and social issues, including sexual assault, gender equality, immigration, refugee crises (Syria), racism and anti-racism. 

As project archivist for student life, Johnson advises individuals and student organizations on contributing records to the archives to suit their needs. Her Amp Up Your Archives program includes a Student Organization Records Management Toolkit, several oral history projects and tips for digital preservation. 

PUL’s archival work is part of a nationwide effort to preserve activism-related content occurring on and beyond academic campuses. PUL staff collaborate with Project STAND (Student Activism Now Documented), a centralized hub for academic archives documenting the ongoing occurrences of student dissent, with a primary focus on marginalized student identities, as well as DocNow, which develops tools and builds community practices that support the ethical collection, use, and preservation of social media content.

For more on ethical preservation practices, view DocNow’s webinar from June 19, 2020: “Archiving Protest Content While Protecting Activists.”

Written by Emily Judd, Communications Coordinator

Media contact: Barbara Valenza, Director of Library Communications