Our Dec. 5 Athenaeum cover story about campus diversity was written by Michelle Cometa and explains how RIT’s evolution as a community with a diverse student body and faculty/staff positively impacts learning, scholarship and the ability to compete globally. While the words were there, we struggled a bit to visually connect the dots. But, that’s when my adventure began.
Michelle’s story explains how so many of our students aren’t aware that Rochester—the city they call their “home away from home” for nine months of the year—once played a very prominent role in social progressivism. The idea to reproduce an old map was determined to be effective, but what type of map should we use? And who would give us the permission to use it?
I spoke to many truly fascinating people including those at the Harriet Tubman home in Auburn, N.Y., the Susan B. Anthony House, Rochester Historical Society, Rochester Public Library, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, and even an archivist with National Geographic magazine. With each person I spoke to, I learned more and more about the history of slavery, abolitionism and the Civil War. I even called Rich Newman, professor of history in RIT’s College of Liberal Arts who is an integral part of creating RIT’s ‘domestic study abroad’ program, asking whether he could recommend some interesting books on the Underground Railroad to satisfy my newly found personal interest in this topic.
My search for a perfect “old timey” Rochester map (and believe me when I say that I got many laughs when I said the words ‘old timey’ to the folks at National Geographic) ended with the great people at the Library of Congress. The map they provided was perfect for identifying important Rochester landmarks, including the Susan B. Anthony House, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and the Frederick Douglass home, among other places, that were instrumental in changing the lives of slaves.
I hope that this story will not only educate you about how RIT is taking diversity one step further, but will inspire you to take another look at Rochester and its beautiful history.