An Oral History Project of Black Students at Pennsylvania State University a Half-Century Ago

When Maia Hill was a senior at Pennsylvania State University, she decided to write a paper on the history of Black students at the university in the late civil rights era. She found that there had not been a lot written on the subject.

So Hill decided to put together the Black Student Alumni at Penn State Oral History Project. The project consists of approximately hour-long Zoom interviews with 13 separate Black alumni, plus a group interview.

Hill said she wanted to cover the period from 1969-71 because of the number of protests around the Vietnam War, Black representation in the student body and curriculum related to Black heritage. Among the oral history subjects, there were mixed feelings about Penn State, according to Hill. Some have returned to campus with fond memories, while others do not have positive memories and refuse to come back to campus.

“These alumni share how they felt, lived, and survived with only 250 Black students amongst 25,000 White students,” Hill said. “The project provides an essential narrative of the Black student experience at Penn State.”

Hill graduated from Penn State in 2020 with degrees in history, Spanish, political science, and African studies.

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