Assistant Professor of Anthropology Naomi Reed is at the forefront of the Southwestern Racial History Project, delving into the University’s past to uncover the narratives that have shaped the campus community. As part of her research, she is collaborating with two dedicated students, Kali Esquivel ’26 and Rose Reed ’25, who are engaged in a SCOPE project. The students are conducting oral histories, aiming to preserve and amplify the voices of two trailblazing alumna– Eva Mendiolla ’75 and Lynette Phillips ’83.

Mendiolla and Phillips hold a unique place in Southwestern’s history as they were among the first student-athletes of color at the University. Esquivel and Reed seek to capture these groundbreaking athletes’ lived experiences, challenges, and triumphs through their interviews. By exploring their stories, they hope to shed light on the significant contributions made by individuals of color to the University’s athletic legacy and broader campus community.

Esquivel, a student-athlete on the Southwestern Women’s Soccer team, joined the SCOPE research project alongside Reed, recognizing it as a High-Impact Experience that would propel her personal and academic growth. She was particularly drawn to this project due to her longstanding interest in social justice, an area she actively engages with through her work at the JEDI Center. Esquivel is acutely aware of the misrepresentation and underrepresentation faced by minorities in these domains, which sparked her curiosity to explore the intersection between social justice and athletics.

“Eva Mendiolla was the first Latin American female athlete to attend Southwestern, and I was surprised and excited to discover a minority presence on the first women’s volleyball team,” Esquivel said. “There’s a huge underrepresentation of minorities. So meeting with a Mexican American and former SU student-athlete and seeing the connections between my story and hers was rewarding to find that it’s an experience we share.”

As an anthropology major, Reed eagerly embraced the chance to participate in the SU Racial History Project, seeing it as an opportunity to delve deeper into her field of study. During her research on Phillips, Reed noticed a stark contrast between the women’s and men’s basketball teams during Phillips’ time. While Phillips was the only Black woman on the women’s basketball team, the men’s team had six or seven Black players—an intriguing disparity considering the demographics of Southwestern at the time. As her research progressed, Reed uncovered that Phillips hailed from Georgetown, which made her connection to Southwestern all the more interesting. The juxtaposition between her hometown and the dynamics within the University fascinated Reed, prompting her to explore further the context that shaped Phillips’ experiences.

“It was an awesome opportunity to do research like this,” Reed explained. “SCOPE is such a great way to connect with a professor and learn in a way that we don’t always have the opportunity to during a semester. When people think about SCOPE, they think about STEM research and being in the labs. But this was so different, and as an anthropology major, conducting an oral history is a big part of anthropological research, so it was rewarding to get that practice.”

Under Professor Reed’s mentorship, Esquivel and Reed are meticulously collecting and documenting the stories of Mendiolla and Phillips, ensuring that their voices are heard and their experiences are acknowledged. By investigating Mendiolla’s and Phillips’ journey, Esquivel and Reed hope to shed light on their contributions to Southwestern’s athletic legacy and delve deeper into the experiences of minority athletes during that period.

“I chose these students to collect oral histories, and they decided they wanted to focus on Southwestern’s first women of color student-athletes. Their work has done a lot to fill in some of the gaps, particularly in Southwestern’s history and the racial history archive,” Professor Reed remarked. “A lot of the Racial History Project archive has dealt with the 1800s, and looking at what’s in the archive and the official history of the University. So we decided that we wanted to collect stories of people that are still living.”

Upon completing their oral histories, Esquivel and Reed will contribute their findings to the Southwestern Racial History Project archive and the ongoing SU Oral History Project. These narratives will enhance both initiatives, ensuring a comprehensive understanding of Southwestern’s racial history. The students will also have the opportunity to expand upon the stories they have gathered through the SU Racial History course in the upcoming fall semester taught by Professor Reed.

The ultimate goal is to preserve and document the stories of people of color who have played pivotal roles in Southwestern’s history. These narratives will have a place within the archives and will be recorded in the official Southwestern Special Collections, strengthening the University’s commitment to inclusivity and exploring its diverse heritage while contributing to a more accurate representation of Southwestern’s past.

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