New Dow grant to fund community oral history project

A nearly $20,000 grant from the Dow Chemical Co. Foundation will allow University of Houston-Victoria faculty and staff to record and store oral histories from Victoria-area residents and underrepresented populations for future generations to access for free.

The Dow Chemical Co. Foundation and Dow Seadrift Operations are providing $19,815 to fund the Texas Coastal Bend Community Oral History Project. The grant will pay for the equipment and space to record, transcribe and store the oral histories of Victoria area residents with diversity and civil rights experiences, including those who are disabled, Black, Hispanic, Asian and/or LGBTQIA+.

Rebecca Lake

Once the histories are complete, the information will be preserved at the Victoria Regional History Center inside UHV University Commons, 3006 N. Ben Wilson St., for community members to access it for free. The Victoria Regional History Center is a collaboration between UHV and Victoria College that holds institutional records and other material that document the history of UHV, VC and the greater Victoria area.

“We couldn’t be more proud to partner with UHV on this community history project,” said Whitney Bolger, public affairs manager for Dow Seadrift Operations. “In 2020, Dow committed more than $10 million in support over the next five years to address systemic racism and racial inequality through a holistic plan, Dow ACTs. We are committed to building inclusive communities where everyone is treated with fairness and respect. Telling the stories of our underrepresented neighbors is one way we can help capture and share the rich cultural history of the Crossroads.”

The idea for the project started about a year ago when members of the UHV Diversity and Race Task Force were approached by UHV University Advancement staff about expanding projects that support diversity and inclusion in the community, said Rebecca Lake, the university’s senior director of equal access and staff co-chair for the task force.

“The intention of the project is to highlight the diversity of the Crossroads,” Lake said. “For some people, their experience of diversity may be related to their race, gender, disability status or LGBTQIA+ status. This is an opportunity to make sure that the community has access to an archive of information told firsthand by community members.”

The task force surveyed several of its work groups and collected project ideas before selecting an oral history project, which is historical data that consists of personal recollections in an audio format. The university then applied for the grant from Dow.

Jesse Pisors

“UHV is grateful to Dow Chemical Co. Foundation for this support not just for the university, but also for the community,” said Jesse Pisors, UHV vice president for advancement and external relations. “This project will be a voice for our Victoria community and serve as a resource for generations to come.”

A team of UHV faculty and staff will be working on the project. The team includes Lake; Amina Patton, assistant professor of communication design and faculty co-chair of the task force; Cherlyn Hodge, success coach; Laura Mammina, assistant professor of history; and Joseph Locke, associate professor of history. Community partners also may help with the interview and research process.

Oral history includes researching and recording interviews, transcribing the interview and preserving the data. This approach connects with an audience in a way that can be intimate, personable and long-lasting, Patton said.

Amina Patton

“Our goal is to capture the firsthand lived experiences from our local community to bridge gaps and deepen understanding,” Patton said. “This project hopes to give this diverse region a home to capture its wealth of knowledge and experiences through storytelling. As much as stories can make us laugh or feel comforted in their familiarity, they can also compel us to have challenging conversations, open our eyes to our own biases and learn from historic events.”

An oral history project is a great way to tell the stories and experiences of Victoria residents that rarely get spotlighted, Mammina said. Oral history is a technique that is used in history and other fields to preserve data in communities. In August, Mammina and Locke attended oral history training that helped them learn how to conduct the interviews and the process for oral histories.

The project will be focused on those living in Victoria County and their experiences, which may include civil rights, segregation and experiences based on gender. The grant will help fund the startup equipment for the project, including recording equipment and digital storage. The team will work with community partners who have already identified people to interview for the project and will later be open to interviewing more community members. Mammina also hopes to work with local historical organizations on the project.

The project will launch in early 2022.

The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973 in Victoria, Texas, offers courses leading to more than 80 academic programs in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as an instructional site in Katy, Texas, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.

Amber Aldaco