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Finding my way as a Student Historian

December 4, 2020

Our second Student Historian in Residence introduces himself and his first steps in his work for the Archives!

By T.J. Braxton (he/him), Student Historian in Residence

As a Student Historian for the University Archives, I quickly found that my first task was to be the most formidable one. Selecting a topic and research question about the experiences of the underrepresented at UW-Madison was not simple; I knew that a multitude of stories had yet to be told, and the expansiveness of what my research could cover was certainly no help. So, I decided to begin with myself, and my own identity. I am a Black man and African American Studies is one of my majors, so I was very interested in researching UW-Madison’s Afro-American Studies Department. Not only is 2020 the 50-year anniversary of the department, but the courses I had taken and the brilliant professors who had taught them had helped me establish a newfound connection to my Black identity. I knew, however, that the conception of the department had already been researched in-depth, so I figured that I would just look at the department’s archival materials and go from there.

Combing through hundreds of pages of records, I kept seeing references to “plans,” specifically the Madison Plan and Plan 2008. I had never heard of either of these plans, and I didn’t even know their subject matter, but based on the way in which they were referenced by department staff, I knew they were problematic. After a quick search on the internet, I knew I had found my new research topic.

Throughout this Fall semester, I have been researching UW-Madison’s past three (and only three) diversity initiatives: The Madison Plan, Plan 2008, and the R.E.E.L. Model for Diversity. Choosing this topic was a significant departure from my initial focus on the Afro-American Studies Department, but it nonetheless pertains to my identity and my place at UW-Madison; if I had not received the Chancellor’s Scholarship, one of UW’s merit-based diversity awards, I would not be a student here. In looking at the goals of each plan, their outcomes, as well as the student reactions, I hope to shine a light upon the issue of diversity on campus, and provide a newfound historical perspective on the experiences of minority students.