Graduate Research Grants Fund Travel to Civil Rights Site

Elizabeth BeckfordOn September 25, 1957, nine African-American students began attending classes at Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas. Their presence, a result of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision, in Brown v. Board of Education, signaled the end of racially segregated schooling in Little Rock and the culmination of a bitter struggle that captured the world's attention.

In 2007, the fiftieth anniversary year of this historic event, Erin Krutko, a Ph.D. student in American Studies, traveled to Little Rock to collect information for her dissertation, "'A Won Cause?': Civil Rights, Public Memory, and the Struggle for Educational Equity and Integration." Her research travel was supported by grants from the Arts & Sciences Office of Graduate Studies and Research. Erin expects to complete her degree in the 2008-09 academic year.

"Campus research funding has allowed me to chase down research leads in Kansas, North Carolina, Arkansas, Washington, D.C., and now Little Rock, Arkansas. Outside funding sources are directed mostly to students in the final stages of their research and writing. The campus support was critical in helping to launch my dissertation."

Erin is examining how the historical narratives, public memories, and personal reflections surrounding school desegregation have evolved over time. "On the one hand," Erin said, "You have color-blind conservatives arguing that Brown v. Board of Education and the stand-off at Little Rock Central High corrected systematic injustice. On the other hand, activists dismiss this narrative of progress and continue to call attention to our separate and unequal school system."

A few of these activists suggest that the battle to claim the legacy of the civil rights movement is a key site in the present-day effort to eliminate educational inequity. How school segregation and integration are remembered and understood - and resulting implications for the present and future - is the focus of Erin's study.

In spring 2007, Erin visited the National Historical Site center associated with the 1957 "crisis at Central High" and interviewed coordinators of the fiftieth anniversary commemoration. Then she returned for the fall events. Because the National Park Service opened a new facility in conjunction with the anniversary, Erin had a unique opportunity to compare the narratives, exhibitions, and audiovisual presentations displayed in both centers and trace the evolution of this public memory.

Research and Travel Awards Established to Support Graduate Students

Research and travel awards from the Office of Graduate Studies and Research help to pay for expenses that A&S graduate students incur while pursuing their research, including supplies and travel to museums, archives, and professional conferences. Students often leverage these early grants to obtain full funding from outside grant agencies.

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