UPDATE June 10, 2019:
Doane University responded that it “does not and will not comment on internal employee issues,” despite commenting extensively to the press. Read more at thefire.org.
Original Post May 20, 2019:
Doane University in Nebraska has closed a library display and suspended the director of the Crete campus’s Perkins Library, Melissa Gomis, over the display’s content. The display included two historical photos of students attending a 1926 Halloween masquerade party in blackface and did not provide additional context for the images.
The exhibit, curated by library staff, displayed historical photographs and mementos from student scrapbooks in the university’s archives. A student complained about the photos depicting blackface and Gomis removed them after a discussion with the student. Subsequently, under orders from the provost, the entire exhibit was removed and Gomis was suspended indefinitely. The university stated that the images do not represent its values and served no educational purpose. Its criticism of Gomis centered on the fact that the exhibit did not contextualize the images or the rationale for their display, or even acknowledge that the photos showed students in blackface.
NCAC recognizes that, in our polarized times, the careful contextualization of exhibitions is important, especially where the mission of the institution is to educate. But decisions about how to frame and contextualize an exhibition should be left to the curator or organizer of the exhibition. To guide curators, librarians and administrators, NCAC has produced a set of guidelines, Smart Tactics: Curating Difficult Content, which includes a handbook to help curators meet the challenges of presenting sensitive materials.
NCAC has joined with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) in asking Doane University to rescind its punishment of Gomis and clarify its commitment to academic freedom.
Read the full letter to the university below.