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Special Collections: A Treasure Trove of Social Justice Resources

January 21, 2009

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Faculty and students attended the awards ceremony.

From left, Women's Studies' Chair Gwen Moore, Kendra Smith-Howard, Denise McGeen, Christine Bose, Elise Bellefeuille, and Bonnie Spanier. (Photo Gina Muscato)

Denise McGeen, a master's candidate in Public History at UAlbany, had never used the Special Collections and Archives before. Then she took a research seminar in environmental history last semester with Assistant Professor of History Kendra Smith-Howard.

Using the records of the Citizens Environmental Coalition and Environmental Advocates that she found in Special Collections, McGeen, of Pontiac, Mich., began to investigate the role of local community groups in the 1980s and 1990s in the eventual closing of the ANSWERS plant in Albany's Arbor Hill.

"I have long had an interest in both the environmental movement and social justice and found the ANSWERS saga to be a compelling combination of the two," said McGeen. "This class was my first introduction to the Special Collections and Archives and I was thrilled to find so much material in the collections related to community organizations and environmental campaigns in the Albany region."

McGeen recently won an award from the Patricia Stocking Brown Fund for Feminist Social Justice Research in University Libraries. Patricia Stocking Brown was the wife of Distinguished Teaching Professor of Biology Emeritus Stephen C. Brown. She taught biology, women's studies, and minorities' studies at Siena College for 35 years, and died in 2004 of metastatic breast cancer. The awards were created to promote student interest in and use of primary materials that are housed in the UAlbany Libraries' Special Collections and Archives and related to the study of social justice.

The departments of Women's Studies, Biological Sciences, and Special Collections and Archives are co-sponsors.

Bonnie B. Spanier, a co-founder of the award, said the Special Collections and Archives are "where primary materials document social justice activism in New York State and are a goldmine for researchers." Spanier, who retired at the end of last semester, is associate professor emerita of Women's Studies.

Winning the award on the undergraduate level was Elise Bellefeuille, a junior from Buffalo, N.Y., who was honored for her work on her honors thesis in Women's Studies and Sociology under Christine Bose. Bellefeuille is planning to analyze the self-reported spending habits and financial knowledge of UAlbany students, using gender as a main variable.   

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