SLIS Launches Fully Funded Social Justice Archivists Cohort

Jan 11, 2023

The School of Library and Information Studies (SLIS) within the College of Communication and Information Sciences (C&IS) recently selected its first cohort of social justice archivists.

The cohort is led by Dr. Bharat Mehra, SLIS professor and EBSCO Endowed Chair in Social Justice, and Dr. Robert Riter, Marie Drolet Bristol-EBSCO endowed professor. The SLIS faculty members began recruitment efforts for this cohort upon receiving a grant entitled “Training of Community-Embedded Social Justice Archivists” (SJ4A) from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) last year.

Their goal was to recruit and train 12 Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) paraprofessionals working in community‐based archives settings to earn a master’s degree in Library and Information Studies (MLIS) from The University of Alabama Online.

“BIPOC librarians and archivists are extremely underrepresented in the LIS field. UA SLIS is proud to welcome this cohort into our program where we can empower them to better serve the informational needs of their diverse communities while also benefitting from their individual and collective expertise. This is truly a momentous occasion,” said Dr. Jamie Naidoo, interim director of SLIS.

Through a combination of recruitment efforts made by the SLIS faculty and vast interest across the country in this specialized and unique program, the initial goal was surpassed. 18 BIPOC students will join the program this semester with 12 SJ4A Fellows fully funded by the IMLS grant and 6 SJ4A Scholars fully funded by The University of Alabama. The cohort represents 11 states across the nation.

“We are delighted to share that since we received such an impressive set of applications, the University awarded us additional internal funding to support 6 extremely well-deserving students. We are truly grateful to the College and School in this regard,” Mehra said.

The SJ4A experience includes a structured, individually tailored social justice curriculum with formal and informal professional mentoring by educators and practitioners.

Mehra and Riter hope that the growth of the cohort will allow the group of archivists to make an even larger impact on the archives and libraries profession and their local and regional communities in the future.

“While enrolled in this program, each student will partner with different community-based organizations, institutions, schools and nonprofits, amongst others, in an internship to nurture community-embedded, action-oriented project development of progressive change,” Mehra said. “Through this project-based education and experiential learning, they will each generate an impact of fairness, equity and justice that they will operationalize in their workplace during their graduate program and after graduation.”

The 18 students have demonstrated their commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion within archival and library studies, and they each will integrate underrepresented points of view and experiences, incorporating social justice initiatives into their current place of work and the organizations they are part of throughout the SJ4A program. These future leaders in archival and library studies are setting the tone for a more inclusive future for the professions moving forward.

“The SJ4A Program is a learning community rooted in values of honesty, openness and co-mentorship; we anticipate critical and generative discussions to shift the pendulum of racial justice and community impact in the professions to a new level,” said Riter. “The incoming SJ4A Fellows and Scholars bring with them demonstrated records of impact within their communities and institutions, and commitments to justice-oriented information practice. We look forward to working with and learning from these emerging professionals as they pursue their professional goals.”

The inaugural group of students will graduate in December 2024, and they will become part of the SJ4A Alumni Committee to help recruit more outstanding BIPOC students into future cohorts.

See below for a list of the inaugural Social Justice Archives Fellows and Scholars.

Social Justice Archives Fellows:

  • Iris Afantchao: Marilyn Blackwell 69 Post-Baccalaureate Fellow and Public Services Assistant, Smith College Special Collections, Northampton, Massachusetts.
  • Jehoiada Zechariah Calvin: Archives Assistant for the Johnson Publishing Company Archive with the J. Paul Getty Trust, Chicago, Illinois.
  • Wayne Coleman: Head of Archives, Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Birmingham, Alabama.
  • Shady Radical: Founder, The Radical Archive of Preservation; Visiting Assistant Professor,Spelman College, Atlanta, Georgia.
  • Sabrina Robinson: Library Associate, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, Charlotte, North Carolina.
  • Dartricia Rollins: Assistant Director, Charis Books and More/Charis Circle, Decatur, Georgia.
  • Su Lan Sheehan: Archives Apprentice, Denver Public Library’s Special Collections and Archives, Denver, Colorado.
  • Maria Smyer: Hispanic Resource Specialist, Special Collections Department, Pueblo City County Library District, Pueblo, Colorado.
  • Kelly Walker: Library Night Supervisor, Reed College, Portland, Oregon.
  • Lerin Williams: Archivist, Cultural and Oral Historian, Backstreet Cultural Museum; Archival Assistant, Amistad Research Center, New Orleans, Louisiana.
  • Sandy Yang: Archives Specialist, RAND Corporate Archives, Santa Monica, California.
  • Zonia Zena:  Archives Assistant at Women Artist Archive Miami, Florida.


Social Justice Archives Scholars:

  • Melissa Carrasco: Circulation Supervisor, Clifton Public Library, Clifton, New Jersey.
  • Sierra King: Founder & Principal Archivist, Build Your Archive, Atlanta, Georgia.
  • Mia McNair: Social Media Intern, Durkeeville Historical Society, Jacksonville, Florida.
  • Néstor Rave, Senior Library Associate, Bowling Green State University Firelands & Reference Library Assistant, Sandusky Public Library, Sandusky, Ohio.
  • Tsinnijinnie Russell: Archival Assistant, Western History and Genealogy Department, Denver Public Library, Denver, Colorado.
  • Charles Woods: Education Programs Manager, Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Birmingham, Alabama.

For additional information, visit the SJ4A website here.