Though black women have always played a seminal role in the University of Denver’s (DU) history, their legacy has long been understated. “Seeking Grace: Early Black Alumnae at the University of Denver,” an exhibit curated by DU archivist and Morgridge College of Education (MCE) adjunct professor Kate Crowe, in partnership with the university’s Sistah Network and former MCE professor Dr. Nicole Joseph, aims to remedy that by collecting and preserving the lived experiences of black women at DU.
The project began as a collaboration between Crowe and Joseph in 2013, and the Sistah Network compiled a lot of the early research used to create the exhibit. In summer 2017, Crowe used her 10-week sabbatical to fill in remaining gaps and began to reconstruct the stories of every black woman who attended DU between 1900 and 1945. With the help of yearbooks, census records and one of Denver’s oldest black newspapers, the Colorado Statesman, Crowe gathered photos of 43 women and the stories of more still, in what she calls an “attempt at an exhaustive list.” Grace Mabel Andrews, the project’s namesake, was DU’s second black female graduate. In 2018, the Interdisciplinary Research Institute for the Study of (In)Equality (IRISE) granted the project $20,000 in funding, which enabled the hiring of several MCE graduate students to continue the research.
Engaging our students in meaningful research projects enhances their academic experiences while enriching the community, and since 2017, the project has grown and expanded through the work of three MCE students. Patrice Greene, MA, Higher Education ’19, has not only been able to leverage these stories to further her own education, but also has gained a sense of connection. Greene and fellow graduate students Elizabeth Ndika, MA, Higher Education ’19, and Kahlea Hunt-Khabir, MA, Higher Education ’20, were connected to the project through the Sistah Network and served as research assistants on Seeking Grace, continuing to write the stories of black women into DU’s history.
Through “Seeking Grace,” these stories are being told not only to the DU community, but to all of Denver. The exhibit had its initial run in spring 2018 in the Anderson Academic Commons, before being moved to MCE in Katherine Ruffatto Hall. In March 2019, the project was displayed in Denver’s Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library in celebration of both Black History Month and Women’s History Month.