As an art history major, junior Lana Mason loves exploring the past. Unsure whether to pursue a career in archival work or at a museum, she took a student position at the Special Collections Research Center with University Libraries.
While exploring newspaper clippings in the archives of Fenwick Library, Mason found a piece of history that sparked her interest, so she decided to dig deeper.
When she transferred here from Piedmont Virginia Community College in Charlottesville, Mason said she noticed an emphasis on diversity and creating a welcoming atmosphere for students of different backgrounds. She said she wanted to see if that concept dated back to the start of the university.
"For the most part, it's lived up to my assumptions," said Mason, who received the University Libraries Student Assistant Scholarship for the 2018–19 academic year.
What she found was a long history of LGBTQ individuals at the university. She said she was able to trace a history of early AIDS awareness and education in the 1980s and the development of the LGBT Resource Center in the 1990s—an acronym that she said stood out.
“That was the first time I'd seen the 'T' in LGBT,” said Mason. “I hadn't seen any mention of trans[gender] people until that point.”
Mason was able to share her findings with a larger audience through the research center’s blog, Vault 217. Her two-part series is called “Progress: LGBTQ Identities and Issues at George Mason University from the 1970s through the 1990s.”
“[The blog] really allows us to get out information and improve access,” said Brittney Falter, research services coordinator for special collections. The name of the blog, Vault 217, comes from a vault in Fenwick library that was previously used to keep oversized or very rare items, Falter said.
The newspaper clippings can be found online via the Special Collections website. These records, as well as many other physical and digital collections, are open to the public for viewing and include letters, photographs, posters, clothing and even the head of the university’s old mascot, Gunston.
“We collect records related to George Mason University history,” said Amanda Brent, processing coordinator for the research center, “as well as records relating to various collecting [foci], such as performing arts, transportation and planning, local D.C. and Virginia history, and planned communities.”
Through her work with special collections, Mason decided archival work is the right direction for her career. She is planning to write more about the history of George Mason University hidden within Fenwick Library.