Southwestern’s Dominant “Institutional Saga”

The most recent published history of Southwestern is Bill Jones’ To Survive and Excel: The Story of Southwestern University, 1840-2000 (Georgetown: Southwestern University, 2006). The book was built from archive research as well as interviews with then current and former faculty, students, staff, and administrators. It contains a lot of short, detailed narratives focused on individuals.

To Survive and Excel does not address the way these individuals created or resisted the dominant institutional culture of Southwestern in the past or more recently. It also does not examine how that culture is related to Southwestern being a predominantly white, Christian, ableist, and heteronormative institution for most of its existence.

Bill Jones ended his version of the institutional saga over 20 years ago, after a period of strong leadership and reframing of the institutional mission in the 1980s and 1990s put us on the path to becoming a national liberal arts university.

As Jones looked ahead to our next chapter then, he predicted part of our challenge today: “The crisis now is that of defining how a Church-related institution with Texas roots can transform itself into a nationally known institution while remaining true to its heritage.”

In the years since Jones wrote those words, Southwestern has not resolved this tension among who we were, who we are, and who we are becoming. One result is a collective sense of deja vu, because Southwestern continually seems to be “acting-out” its relationship to its past instead of actively “working-through” it.

The other result is a collective sense of disjunction between the University’s projected image and the embodied realities people feel on the ground. This is particularly true if you are embodied differently than the people this place was built by and for.  And it's true if you are embodied differently than the people, places, and events rehearsed in the dominant commemorative landscape of Southwestern’s campus.

To learn more about the background, context, and purpose of the Placing Memory project, follow the links below:

Behind the Scenes of the Research

The Legacy of Southwestern's History as an Institution

Scholarly and Cultural Context

About the Placing Memory Project