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Building Radical Empathy in Archives and Special Collections: Highlighting Historically Black Colleges and Universities (BRE)

"The framework for radical empathy has allowed us to make space for collective vulnerability, racial reckoning, and accountability. This is a proactive departure from the culture, ethics, practices, and theoretical foundations that we have inherited in the archival profession." Copyright (c) 2022  Elvia Arroyo-Ramírez, Jasmine Jones, Shannon O'Neill, Holly A. Smith

What is "Radical Empathy?"

Political Scientist Terri Givens describes radical empathy as "moving beyond an understanding of others’ lives and pain to understand the origins of our biases" (Radical Empathy: Finding a Path to Bridging Racial Divides).

To learn more, read "An Introduction to Radical Empathy in Archival Practice" by Elvia Arroyo-Ramírez, Jasmine Jones, Shannon O'Neill and Holly A. Smith.

Grant Summary

A confluence of issues, including increased interest in library and information science education in the areas of archives & special collections, a continued lack of diversity in the profession, and the need for more students from Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs) to pursue librarianship, inspired this project. Through the BRE grant, lead applicants, Califa & Dr. Nicole Cooke will recruit HBCU undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) programs around the US, and early career archives and special collections professional for internships. The internships will be designed to increase radical empathy and related skills to ensure that archives more accurately communicate the cultural context of communities represented within the archives as well as impacting future scholarly research created by them.
A two-day immersive forum will convene a group of professionals from archives, special collections, LIS, HBCUs, recruitment, advising, internship placement, and curriculum design. The purpose of the forum is to solicit feedback and assess educational needs that will be incorporated into the development of a special collections and archival curriculum, toolkit, internship model, professional skills development webinars, and an online course and workbook based on the curriculum. The BRE internship model will ready these archive professionals to apply radical empathy to archives and special collections that more accurately inform the future of social justice movements around the world and elevate the role of archivists and special collections librarians in these movements. 

Visit the Forum page.

Advisory Committee

  • Dr. Nicole A. Cooke, Phd, MEd, MLS, Co-Project Director, Augusta Baker Endowed Chair and Associate Professor, School of Library and Information Science, University of South Carolina
  • Dr. Aisha Johnson, Project Committee Member, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Outreach, Georgia Institute of Technology
  • David Pack Atkins, Project Commitee Member, Dean, University Libraries, East Tennessee State University
  • Veronda Pitchford, Co-Project Director, Assistant Director, Califa Group/Infopeople
  • Holly Smith, Project Committee Member, College Archivist, Spelman College

Press Release

Recommended Readings

Institute of Museum and Library Services

Institute of Museum and Library Services

This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services RE-252554-OLS-22.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation's libraries and museums. We advance, support, and empower America’s museums, libraries, and related organizations through grantmaking, research, and policy development. Our vision is a nation where museums and libraries work together to transform the lives of individuals and communities. To learn more, visit and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.