December 5, 2007
Students freeze time
A far-reaching voice
“Our project is an adaptation of Mass Observation, using St. Michael’s as the community,” Hirst says.
The survey is anonymous and is three pages long, however, participants must sign their names, not for identification purposes, only to consent to the terms of the study. It starts with asking basic questions: grade, gender, major, ethnicity and hometown. The questions that follow look to extract more thoughtful responses from the participant. Question topics range from popular culture, politics, hobbies and life at St. Michael’s.
“We want to make the students feel like their opinion matters,” Hirst says.
During the first half of the 20th century, St. Michael's offered a student publication called, Purple and Gold. The entire publication was student-designed and had to be duplicated without the aid of a copier or a printer. The title was accentuated with purple and gold construction paper, and most of the literature was written with a typewriter.
According to Elizabeth Scott, the sole archivist at St. Michael’s, there are also audio recordings of alumni reminiscing about their college years and how it compares to today’s student life. In one recording, two alumni, a father and his son, talk back and forth about their separate experiences as St. Michael’s students.
The archives are also filled with St. Michael’s paraphernalia dating back to 1904, the year the college was founded. Photos, press releases, Student Association meeting minutes, newspapers and even Edmundite relics rest in acid-free cardboard boxes in temperature controlled rooms.
The archives are regularly fed official documents from the admissions office and the athletic department, although any one can submit any thing they want at any time, Scott says. She takes it upon herself to collect the school’s publications, including yearbooks, magazines, brochures and newspapers.
There is a barrier, however, between the archives and student expression, Scott says. It is hard to breach the unofficial world of student dorm life and integrate it in the official world of the archives, she says. SMC Voice is the first attempt Scott has seen in her six years as the school archivist to overcome this barrier and integrate some student life into the archives.
“I think it’s a really cool concept,” she says.
The future of SMC voice
Purcell’s class talked about methods of preserving history in a highly technological age, where electronic elements such as e-mails and digital photos are deleted in seconds, Hirst says.
During Mass Observation, people kept journals and wrote essays, preserving their culture in writing, Sias says. The group says it hopes that the surveys handed out will be returned with deep, thoughtful answers, painting a picture of St. Michael’s in 2007 that can be reflected upon for years to come.
According to Sias, it is important to gather the thoughts and opinions of the St. Michael’s community now, to preserve this moment in time authentically.
“In five years, people’s opinions may change, but we have their answers to these questions now,” she says.
“Hopefully we can come out with a new five-question survey once a month,” Hirst says.
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St. Michael's College
One Winooski Park
Colchester, Vt. 05439