Library: “Firsts” Research Requests

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McGoogan Health Sciences Library staff are asked to provide answers to who the "first" student, faculty, or staff member on campus was to do something.

In researching these questions, library staff have found that:

  • The library's primary source evidence lacks demographic information that allows for certain identification.
    • Examples of gaps in historical records include student records, admissions records, and incomplete faculty records
    • Photographic evidence exists, but we cannot retroactively impose a label on a person based on our observations of that person's appearance
  • There are "silences" in archival collections. The historical record is often created by people who had power in the institution and may not represent unrecognized "firsts."
  • Identifying someone as a "first" can discount others who may have struggled to break barriers. It may not have been easy for the second or eighth person either. This type of identification reduces a person's accomplishments to tokenism, can imply that a barrier has been permanently broken, and ignores larger social, legal, and political contexts of the era.

Therefore, we can no longer provide information on the accomplishments of the "first" person of a certain race, color, ethnicity, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, disability, or academic credentials.

For questions or further information, please contact

August 1, 2022