Newsletter 2022: Student-Organized Exhibition “Standing in Silhouettes: The Southwest Dormitories at UMASS” Held in Conjunction With Brutalism Conference
Wednesday, July 27, 2022
Wednesday, July 27, 2022
UMass undergraduates Jordan Luther (‘21) and Callie Krekorian (‘20) spent much of the pandemic working with Professor Rohan to curate and design a show of historical photographs from UMass Special Collections centered on the dormitory complex that helped make UMass into the modern research university it is today. Weaving together architectural history and social history, the exhibition looked beyond the Southwest’s infamous reputation as an alienating stronghold of hard-partying, rioting young white men. From the very beginning, over half the population of the Southwest consisted of women and it has become a more diverse community in nearly every way over the decades. The main image for this exhibition was of a young white woman who stands as tall and proud as the tower behind her. Their silhouettes parallel one another. Her name unknown, the woman’s photograph was no doubt taken by UMass to promote the Southwest in the late 1960s. Students like her were excited to live in the Southwest when the first buildings were completed in 1968. These students believed themselves to be at the forefront of change, a part of the shift to coed dormitories, and new programs like “Project 10,” an experimental living and learning environment. The Southwest buildings provided them with opportunities to find both individuality and community, a place that created vibrant and unique pockets of Southwest culture. Indeed, in contrast to the hard rigidity of the buildings representing the official face of the University, “softer” alternative cultures have also existed at the Southwest, exemplified for instance by the light-weight, ephemeral, geodomes of the late 1960s protest movements built by students to question University housing and administrative policies. Individual and communal identities have been fostered as well in the spaces occupied by the Stonewall Center, the Malcolm X Cultural Center and the Latinx American Cultural Center. The Southwest Residential Area can therefore also be understood as a place of empowerment and inclusivity, one that attracts students to campus and celebrates them. Today, the Southwest faces new challenges as Mass copes with the COVID pandemic and how to safely house its thousands of students.
The exhibition opening was held during Homecoming when many alumni from the 1970s came to campus. Curators Luther and Krekorian really enjoyed meeting them and hearing studies and the alums loved the show!