The project that eventually grew into SpeakOut dates back to 2015, when Brendan Connell Jr. ’87 presented staff from the Dartmouth College Library with an idea. At the time, Brendan was serving as president of DGALA, Dartmouth College’s LGBTQIA+ alumni association, and had developed a strong interest in preserving the history of the LGBTQIA+ community at Dartmouth. As Brendan wrote in a message to DGALA in December 2017, he was moved to action in two ways: first, the loss of several DGALA members from the graduating classes of the 1950s highlighted how little was known about the experiences of LGBTQIA+ students during that era; and second, Brendan’s conversations with current students revealed the gaps in their knowledge of what the campus was like for the LGBTQIA+ community in the 1980s, when he was a student. Brendan recognized that the lack of information was likely even more widespread. “These are just two threads of many,” he wrote, “that we will need to weave together to create a permanent and accessible record of our community’s history at Dartmouth.”
Brendan’s original idea — an oral history project in which DGALA members would record interviews with each other about their experiences as students — grew over the next three years in collaboration with staff at Rauner Special Collections Library, the home of the Dartmouth College Oral History Program. Brendan and Caitlin Birch, Digital Collections and Oral History Archivist at Rauner, eventually settled on a different model for the project, one that originated with The Dartmouth Vietnam Project. Rather than ask DGALA members to interview each other, the project would feature undergraduates as the interviewers. With a name proposed by Brendan, SpeakOut was officially born.
The first cohort of 10 student interviewers joined SpeakOut in early 2018 and completed their training with Caitlin during Spring Term of that year. By then, the project had garnered the generous financial support of the Dartmouth Office of the Provost and the Dean of Libraries, and had been recognized as part of the College’s 250th anniversary celebration. Alexis Liston, Oral History Specialist, joined the project, and a growing number of Dartmouth alumni, staff, and faculty volunteered to share their stories in oral history interviews. The first SpeakOut interviews were recorded in May 2018.
Today SpeakOut is a multi-faceted project with Brendan’s original idea at its heart. It’s an experiential learning opportunity for current Dartmouth students, teaching the theory and method of oral history, primary source research skills, and the history of Dartmouth’s LGBTQIA+ community. It’s a collection-building initiative for the Dartmouth Library, providing a path to better represent the experiences of an historically marginalized group in the College Archives. And it’s the collective memory of DGALA — a project to preserve and remember. As Brendan wrote in the months leading up to SpeakOut’s launch: “Our stories, when collected together, will create an enduring tapestry of LGBTQIA+ life at Dartmouth over many decades, documenting days of adversity and triumph, days which should never be forgotten.”