While East Tennessee State University’s regular campus tours help prospective and new students find their way around and alumni to see changes that have taken place since their time at the school, a new campus tour developed by students in a fall 2017 history class shines a light on the evolution of student life at the university.
Students in Dr. Steven Nash’s upper-level “Colloquium in American History” course researched different aspects of ETSU’s history, from 1911 to the present, and prepared a template and script for a tour that they conducted during their final exam block in December. Topics covered in this tour, which student Emily Crawford calls a “journey around ETSU from the student perspective,” included the early history of the institution as a Normal School that focused on training teachers, where the members of the first class of students came from, the school’s traditionally strong relationship with the military and students’ wartime service, the desegregation of ETSU, rules and regulations during the early years of campus housing, gender relations and more.
Nash chose to conduct this course as an introduction to historic site interpretation, which was ideal for this particular group of students, many of whom already had experience with national parks, historic sites and museums. He wanted the class to develop a historic walking tour, and decided to make ETSU the location, because the university was the one thing all the students had in common.
The six senior and graduate students in the class were both nervous and excited as they took on the assignment.
After narrowing the focus of the tour to student history, class members split research responsibility into different categories. Seniors Crawford and Caroline Andrews dug into the early social history of ETSU, while Madison Reavis, also a senior, researched the background ofcampus buildings. Graduate student Stuart Shelton looked into the ROTC program, the Veterans Memorial, the history of student military involvement and related topics. Senior Robert Wilson studied student activism and views on national and international events through the years. And another graduate student, Ashlie Richard, contributed research on various aspects of the tour, as well.
They gathered historic facts from ETSU’s Archives of Appalachia, yearbooks and more, and collected stories from family members, friends and even strangers. They organized the information they found into a logical sequence and designed the tour route, selecting landmarks at which to stop to talk about their chosen topics. Once they had their route, they did a practice tour, timing each stop and finalizing the information to be presented before actually conducting the tour for a handful of invited faculty and administrators as their final exam.
The resulting tour is only a starting point, however. It was designed to allow further development with new tour stops and additional stories, and could be conducted during Homecoming or other occasions.
“The goal is that someone should be able to pick it up and give the tour the same as we did, ideally,” Wilson said. “I hope that in the future, people, and especially students, will be able to take the work we did here and add to it, and make it their own and continue to give light to the story that is this university.”