A small crowd gathered in the Plunkett Gallery on the evening of Nov. 1 to witness the opening of an exhibit titled “Mercer’s Integration: The Good, the Bad, and the Unfinished.”
The exhibit displays research conducted last Spring by the students in the ASJ 101 class, an “Engaging Social Justice” class taught by anthropology and women and gender studies professor Dr. Natalie Bourdon.
This year is the 60th anniversary of Mercer’s integration. Bourdon wanted the class research to commemorate this. She chose to focus not only on Mercer’s integration history, but on the progress that Mercer has made since then.
Bourdon said her students spent a significant amount of time digging through Mercer's archives. They uncovered new, and often controversial, information from past issues of The Cluster and The Cauldron, which were both publications written by students. They quickly realized there was a lack of representation of students of color, especially black students.
“The students noticed there are lots of silences or gaps in the archives about integration and the years after,” Bourdon said. “This is often a problem for historians, as institutional records are often written by those folks in positions of power.”
They then went on to conduct interviews from various students and faculty on campus about Mercer’s diversity, equity, and inclusion. Bree Withrow ‘25 facilitated many of the interviews.
Withrow had no idea what to expect when she first entered the ASJ 101 class last semester, but she quickly found the research to be engaging. As a history major, she already knew that questions surrounding parts of Mercer’s history were often met with silence.
“As activists, we are called to understand why there was silence in the first place and to bring light to the systems that let that silence persist for so long,” Withrow said.
She recognizes that some people may wonder why discussions surrounding integration are still being held today. Withrow said the interviews the class conducted helped shed light on the need for continued conversations surrounding diversity and inclusion, because, in 2023, some students still feel excluded from parts of campus.
“If we saw each other as equals, if we truly value one another as individuals and scholars in this day and age, we wouldn't need to continue to bring light to the conflict inequities happening both in the world and on our campus,” she said.
The exhibit features a timeline stretching from wall to wall from 1963 to present day. The gallery space includes articles, photographs, current quotes from current students and faculty, and more.
Sydney Walker ‘24, a graphic design and studio art major, spent weeks carefully curating the space. She said it was more work then she anticipated, but the work was rewarding, and she’s proud of it.
“It’s the history of the place that we chose to be a part of,” Walker said. “It’s important to further the work that people were doing to make Mercer what it is today.”
She worked with student Atia Bailey ‘ 24, who edited and selected the information for the exhibit. Bailey said she was impressed by how effective and passionate the class was. It reminded her how important the voices of students are on Mercer’s campus, and how much work is still to be done.
“I hope that this project encourages everyone to think about how they uniquely contribute and actively contribute to the progress of integration and change,” Bailey said.
The exhibit will be on display for the rest of the semester. The exhibit also features catalog copies for the public to take with them, and a box open for suggestions about ways Mercer can become a more equitable place.
Eliza Moore ‘24 is an English and Journalism student at Mercer University. She is now in her second year working as The Cluster’s News Editor after a semester abroad. She is currently producing work for Macon Magazine and Georgia Public Broadcasting in addition to her work with The Cluster. She loves breakfasts, the ocean, and all things related to writing.