Announcing the Launch of the Student Health Coalition Project Website

Majority white group of students, many smiling, with their fists raised in the air. An older person is in front of the group wearing a white lab coat on a motorcycle.

An online archive about student activism in the 1960’s and 70’s went public on Thursday, March 31, 2016. The website is the digital home for video clips, historic photos, and personal profiles from former activists in the rural American South with a focus on health care.

The archive is the outcome of a partnership between the Southern Historical Collection of the University Libraries at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Student Health Coalition.

The Southern Historical Collection encourages the study and appreciation of the history and culture of the American South by collecting, preserving, and promoting the use of unique documentary materials of enduring historical value. The Collection does this to enable users to derive meanings from the Southern past and to support the University’s mission of teaching, research, and service.

The Student Health Coalition was a student-run organization based primarily at Vanderbilt University and eventually at other colleges around the South. They were active over several decades beginning in the late 1960’s. Student activists and rural community leaders worked together on issues related to health care and empowerment.

The new website is a unique community-driven archive of historical documents and other treasures. Its goal is to encourage the study of the Coalition’s public health and community organizing work throughout the Appalachian region. The online archive is by design interactive, dynamic, and open to the public.

Majority white group of students, many smiling, with their fists raised in the air. An older person is in front of the group wearing a white lab coat on a motorcycle.
Circa summer 1971: Student Health Coalition participants gather in front of the Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Photograph from the Richard Davidson Photographic Collection, Southern Historical Collection, UNC-Chapel Hill.

Discoveries and advantages have already begun to surface even as the site was in development.  The Southern Historical Collection has uncovered little-used archives in their collection whose relevance has been magnified by the interactive site. Links to other archival resources throughout the region, including Vanderbilt University Medical Center, are beginning to shed new light on old stories about health care issues in the rural South.

According to Biff Hollingsworth, Collecting and Outreach Archivist at UNC-Chapel Hill, “Scholars are often drawn to a project or area of research because of the depth of resources available to them. So sometimes marketing those opportunities is tantamount to developing them further.”

North Carolina’s organic farming celebrity Bill Dow was a co-founder of the Student Health Coalition and a graduate of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. His newly-published memoirs, What I Stand On, received acclaim around North Carolina. The memoirs contain stories from the Coalition days as well as from Bill’s farming innovations.

Just after Bill Dow died in 2012, his family made arrangements for his collection of historical documents about farming to be left in a conventional archive at Carolina’s libraries. When archivists learned about Dow’s early work in health care, they engaged with a reunion of the Coalition to explore this new model for interactive, community-driven archive building. The public is now invited to explore and engage with their collaborative work.

Check out the Student Health Coalition website.