by Garrett Hoffman, PhD student in Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development.
My assignment was to investigate connections between an aspect of the history of American higher education and current realities. My chosen topic was LGBT student run organizations at the University of Minnesota. Having grown up a queer kid in Minneapolis, I figured this topic was salient enough to produce a somewhat interesting paper.
I anticipated finding useful information in the Tretter Collection. What I wasn’t prepared for was the journey on which these documents would take me. Paging through the chronicles of the founding of FREE, one of the first LGBT student run organizations in the country, I realized that had I been born just 40 years earlier, my life would have been drastically different. The box I was looking through contained letters sent from all over the country to FREE. They were filled with desperation, audacity, hope, and an overwhelming sense of camaraderie – folks searching for love and for a community, some of them desperate for queer space, something my life contains in abundance. It was an intense juxtaposition.
I found plenty to produce a quality paper but more importantly, I was granted a glimpse into part of the history of my community. Working in higher education for most of my adult life, I know that student movements are often powerful and the founding of FREE was no exception. Looking at the documents in the Tretter Collection was somehow different than reading one of many history books written about the gay liberation movement. I was transported and could get a small glimpse of what LGBT life was like not that very long ago.