January 4, 2022

Instruction at Utica Institute Museum gives new perspective on history

"It is so important for students to find and connect to their past and explore a positive narrative about local Black contributions to public education."
BY: Vergie Morgan
Photography by Vergie Morgan

The Black experience as seen through the eyes of William Holtzclaw at the turn of the 20th century was the focus of a class last semester at the Utica Campus.

Utica Campus students used the Utica Institute Museum for the class, one that helped them learn a new perspective about education for Black people in rural Mississippi.

The Utica Institute Museum is located in what was formerly the vice president’s home on campus. It houses historical artifacts related to Holtzclaw, the Jubilee Singers and other unique facets of the campus’ history

Museum Co-Director Jean Greene, along with English instructor and co-director Dan Fuller, taught Intro to Humanities, a class designed to give students a new way of learning about the human experience.

“We look at the political, social and economic contexts out of which social movements have emerged, with a particular focus on William Holtzclaw and the Utica Institute,” Fuller said. “The class also functions as an introduction to humanities studies in literature, history, art, speech and music to encourage students to explore new ways of looking at the world.”

The class started in 2016 as a part of a National Endowment for the Humanities grant. When the museum opened earlier this year, the class was reworked so students could utilize the museum.

“This course is definitely place-based,” Fuller said. “By situating our work within the museum, students not only learn about Holtzclaw and Utica’s history, but they also explore how they are part of Utica’s ongoing story as future alumni.

Greene said the course gives students the chance to ask in-depth questions about the history of the institution.

‘’This course encourages students to evaluate and ask critical questions about the scope of their history as well as the institution’s story,” she said. “It is so important for students to find and connect to their past and explore a positive narrative about local Black contributions to public education. This helps inform their future.”

Students also read Holtzclaw’s book, “Black Man’s Burden,” which allows them to examine the social norms during the time Holtzclaw founded Utica Junior College.

Tyren Casnave, of Slidell, La., said the class has helped him learn more about the history of this campus and he encourages fellow students to enroll as well.

“This is a really good class,” Casnave said. “It allows you the chance to learn more about the founder William Holtzclaw and how he created the college from scratch.”

The Intro to Humanities class is offered only in the fall semester once a year and is worth three credit hours. The course is open to all students and counts as a general elective. Fuller said the course is important because it allows students the chance to learn the significance and the history behind the Utica Campus.

“Teaching Introduction to Humanities at an HBCU provides us with the opportunity to tell stories of the human condition which have been historically overlooked. It’s essential for our students to know the significance of this place, but even more importantly, to be inspired by Holtzclaw’s legacy to work for change today,” he said.