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Davis, California

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Hart Hall: a hearty history


On campus building houses departments, programs with passion

Newspaper clippings displaying images of advocates including Malcolm X and Angela Davis and articles documenting UC Davis protests adorn the walls of George H. Hart Hall. The hall is included in the National Register of Historic Places and is one of the earliest-constructed buildings on UC Davis’ campus.

“If someone just walks through, I don’t know if they pick up on [a] vibe, but it’s here for sure,” said Veronica Passalacqua, the curator for the C.N. Gorman Museum currently housed in Hart Hall. “People in this building are extremely passionate about their ideals.”

Hart Hall was originally known as the Animal Science building since it housed the Animal Science Department — the only department of its kind in the UC system. The building was renamed in 1983 to its present title in dedication to George H. Hart, a former chair of the Department of Animal Science who helped bring it to international fame.

Hart Hall is currently home to the ethnic studies as well as other departments and programs including American studies, the Division of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies, Gender, Sexuality and Women’s (GSW) studies and Human and Community Development.

Asian American Studies professor Sunaina Maira credits student activist movements to the creation of ethnic studies programs at UC Davis. Both Maira and Chicana/o studies professor Natalia Deeb-Sossa led the creation of the UC Davis Race Project which hangs in the hallways of Hart Hall. Showcasing a culmination of images and copies of Third World Forum newsletters, the project displays a history of social struggles and is a prominent feature of the building.

“The Race Project document[s] the history of the [UC Davis] student movements,” Maira said. “We wanted to […] create an archive and also a public exhibit that would try to educate the campus community about the long history of activism [at UC Davis, which] is not very well-known. Davis was actually […] a really important [place] for […] social struggles and student movements from the 1960s and ’70s on, and those movements led to the creation of ethnic studies programs that are housed in Hart Hall today.”

Additionally, Nicki King, chair of the Department of African and African American Studies housed in Hart Hall, said that a similar exhibit will be opening during Winter Quarter.

“The [African and African American Studies] Department, along with the other ethnic and cultural studies programs in Hart Hall, will be sponsoring an upgraded Third World Forum exhibit,” King said. “The concepts of equity, social justice and empowerment are important for the advancement and recognition of all underrepresented groups, and we want our students to understand that there is a strong historical precedent for their involvement in these causes.”

After an $8.9 million renovation in 1992, departments such as Native American Studies (NAS) moved into Hart Hall as well. The NAS Department is one of only two departments of its kind in the country that offer graduate programs.

“We’re the only [department] anywhere that offers a hemispheric perspective to the study of indigenous peoples,” said Inés Hernández-Ávila, NAS professor. “[This] approach to the study of indigenous peoples was central to our program from the beginning. It was the vision of one of our founders, Jack Forbes; he truly believed in this perspective — it is his legacy to us.”

Hart Hall is also home to research studies programs including the Self-Esteem Across the LiFespan Lab (SELF Lab), which researches the influences and factors related to self-esteem.

At the head of the SELF Lab is Kali Trzesniewski. Trzesniewski is an associate cooperative extension specialist in the Department of Human Ecology, who works with both undergraduate and graduate students, including Michelle Harris, a sixth-year graduate student of self-esteem and personality development in the Human Development Ph.D. program. Harris said she enjoys working in Hart Hall because it has a sense of home and community. She helps to conduct research, design surveys and publish data.

“Our most recent paper […]  is validating a new survey that we created that can measure global self-esteem,” Harris said. “This new survey […simplifies] existing surveys so kids can understand them a little better, and we found that their responses are reliable and valid. [The] survey works and it can be administered across the lifespan.”

Another noteworthy feature of Hart Hall is the C.N. Gorman Museum, founded in 1973. The museum, which displays contemporary Native American and Indigenous artwork, has been housed in Hart Hall since 1992 and has displayed over 200 exhibits. It is named after Navajo artist Carl Nelson Gorman.

“[C.N. Gorman] was really inspired by the students [who] were here,” Passalacqua said. “He soon amassed quite a big collection very quickly, [and] because he had this collection […] the university officially dedicated it as a museum in his name. We’re a university museum and we’re dedicated to teaching and research, but […] there’s no other venue like ours until you get to Arizona and New Mexico.”

The C.N. Gorman Museum’s next exhibit in January is entitled ‘Protest and Prayer’ and will display photographs of protests including Standing Rock and the Idle No More Movement. The exhibit fits into the air of social justice and advocacy evident in Hart Hall. Hernández-Ávila, who also worked as co-director of the UCD Social Justice Initiative, said she hopes people associate Hart Hall with social advocacy.

“I teach what matters to me,” Hernández-Ávila said. “I hope that the way that I teach [and] the way that I carry myself shows all students that  […] I want to contribute to awareness, consciousness, social consciousness [and] an understanding of social justice in a way that is inclusive of everyone. I think most of my colleagues in this building do the same thing.”

King, who has worked in Hart Hall for a number of years, said that the building’s location signifies what it represents.

“I have always felt that its location, right on the Quad and in the physical ‘heart’ of the campus spoke volumes about our commitment to be a vital part of the life of the university,” King said. “I can look out of my office window and see every demonstration on the quad, so it puts us right in the middle of what the students are thinking and feeling, especially about issues related to social justice.”

Although the departments in Hart Hall function separately from one another, Hernández-Avila said that faculty members from the ethnic studies departments, as well as the American studies and GSW studies departments, try to stand with and support one another.

“Historically, we’ve always worked in solidarity with each other,” Hernández-Avila said. “If one of the programs needs support from the other, we usually come forward and support them. I like the idea that the name of the building is Hart, because I think of it as the other, h-e-a-r-t.”


Written by: Hannah Holzer — features@theaggie.org


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