While history is the name of the game at Fort Lewis College’s Center of Southwest Studies, its leaders are focusing on its future.
College officials with the center, now in its 55th year, say they want the campus and the community to know all it has to offer.
“People don’t know much about what we do here,” said Shelby Tisdale, director of the center. “So we definitely want to engage in more outreach.”
The Center of Southwest Studies was founded in 1964 after the Ballantine family donated seed money to establish what they and college administrators envisioned as a central location to house all the records and history books of the American Southwest.
Robert Delaney, a history professor at FLC and the center’s first director, amassed a collection that included thousands of historical documents, maps and volumes about Southwest history and culture, tens of thousands of photographs and rare Navajo weavings.
The Center of Southwest Studies was the first research center in the U.S. to focus exclusively on the Southwest. Now, it’s an integral resource for anyone researching the region.
“Now, we are part of a consortium of 13 Southwest centers,” Tisdale said. “But we’re still unique because the others are either just archives or a library. We have a museum.”
Increasingly, college officials are thinking about the center’s role in the future.
For years, the Center of Southwest Studies has emphasized training students to work in museums, archives or libraries.
Gretchen Gray, who grew up in Seattle, said she went to FLC because of the school’s focus on archaeology and anthropology. She walked into the Center of Southwest Studies and immediately asked if they were hiring any positions for students.
“I learned a lot in those four years working under an archivist,” she said. “When I left, I went on to work for the National Park Service at Canyon de Chelly (National Monument in Arizona).”
Gray is now the center’s archives and library assistant.
Students on campus are familiar with the center, Tisdale said. But in the next few years, she said the center wants to get better at promoting its offerings to the college and broader community.
College administrators also want to tie the center’s resources into other college degree programs. In the past, Elizabeth Quinn MacMillian, curator at the center, said the center has partnered with geology students on projects. And students from Durango School District 9-R increasingly are becoming involved with the center.
“As new people start on campus, we want students and professors to know what resources we have here,” she said. “There’s something in our collection for almost anyone on campus.”
Tisdale said the center is also working to digitize its records and collections to make it more accessible.
“The past five years, we’ve been doing it all behind the scenes, but it’s our overarching goal to get those collections accessible,” she said.
Tom Stritikus, president of FLC, could not be reached for an interview. But in a statement provided to The Durango Herald, he emphasized the center’s importance.
“Deepening our connections to the Four Corners region is an important part of our success,” he said. “The Center of Southwest Studies has been, and will be for years to come, an important part of our educational outreach mission to connect students and our community to the past, present and future of our region.”
College officials say the center may also play an integral role as FLC looks to more effectively tell its history as a boarding school for Native Americans in the late 1800s and early 1900s.