By: Kayla McCarthy, Bicentennial Intern, Class of 2018, American Studies, Bloomington
Hello worldwide web! My name is Kayla and I am a spring-semester intern researching how IU has experienced, interacted with, and participated in U.S. presidential happenings since IU’s inception in 1820. This could mean elections, campaigns, inaugurations, presidential visits to IU, you name it.
Why in the world (wide web) are you researching such a topic, you may ask.
Let me enlighten you with an excerpt from my unpublished memoir, working title: It’s a Punderful Life.
(Besides, what better way to kick off an internship based on history and memory than with the memories of yours truly?)
The morning after.
The morning after was different. Stepping onto campus, I could feel it in the stickiness of the air – sticky like honey or sticky like earwax, depending on who you ask. I could feel it in the reverent hush in my classes, as normalcy tried to fight its way in. Something was different about today, different from just 24 hours before.
November 8, 2016, was my first presidential Election Day as an enfranchised person. At the ripe age of 21 I finally participated in a presidential election – and what a tumultuous beginning it was.
Besides the volatility of the Hillary v. Trump battle, being at IU during the final stretch of the campaigns was vastly different from the (largely nonexistent) political atmosphere of my conservative, suburban upbringing. Back in my hometown the only sign of political affiliation were yard signs here and there. In Bloomington, there were rallies. And liberals.
One day in the fall, I remember walking to class and cutting through a line of hundreds of students, faculty, and locals. As I walked from the IU Art Museum to Ballantine Hall, I traced the line that snaked from the IU Auditorium, where the Bernie Sanders rally was to be held. It extended all the way down 7th street and Forrest Avenue, past Ballantine. This queue was full of Bernie hopefuls who seemed to dominate the campus, if not in numbers then in voice and fervor.
But those voices were softer on November 9, at least temporarily. The reaction to Donald Trump’s election in my classes and on campus was surreal. Some professors postponed curriculum to discuss how everyone was thinking and feeling.
In my business law class, a student asked about the fate of the Supreme Court, with a new Justice to be appointed and a possibility of more vacancies during the new president’s term. In a humanities class, one of my classmates teared up. Another was asked his thoughts, to which he responded, “I’m still a black man in America. This don’t really change anything for me.”
These experiences led me to ask: Has this happened before? Have other presidential campaigns and elections affected IU students, faculty, and administrators like this in the past? If so, how? What other kinds of interactions has IU had with the presidency?
And thus the seed was planted for what I am now researching for the IU Bicentennial.
Now that you have an idea of my past, let’s take a gander at the present.
Most of my time now is spent in the archives (see artsy pic of my work space). I’ve done some archival research on U.S. presidents visiting Bloomington and correspondences between U.S. presidents and IU presidents. This has helped me develop a working list of which presidents and presidential candidates have visited IU.
Here is a Kroger-style free sample of what I’ve discovered so far:
Name Date Why
Benjamin Harrison October 21, 1896 Campaign stop for William McKinley
William H. Taft January 21, 1915 Founder’s Day speaker
Theodore Roosevelt June 12, 1918 Commencement speaker
Richard Nixon ? 1965-1967 Fall convocation lecture speaker
Gerald Ford April 23, 1970 Unknown
Barack Obama April 11, 2008 Little 500
I’ll be using these names and dates as a launching pad for further investigation as to why they visited and how students/faculty reacted or engaged with that visit. To get the layman’s perspective, I will be scouring the Indiana Daily Student newspaper archives and any records of student political organizations that were active at the time.
As for this blog, I plan to share some interesting tidbits I come across during my research and give you a behind-the-scenes look at my progress and methodology along the way.
So stay tuned until next time to find out how the third president of IU roasted U.S. president-to-be Benjamin Harrison.
Click here to read about the roasting: https://blogs.iu.edu/bicentennialblogs/2017/03/10/the-sample-gates-the-white-house-presidential-scandal/