Students have been hard at work all semester on their Virginia Ball Center (VBC) Seminar projects. These projects, primarily for students in the Honors College, are innovative in their approach. One team, guided by professors Emily Johnson and Silas Hansen, the seminar brought together students from diverse disciplines to work on projects related to LGBTQ+ history, culture, and experiences in Muncie and beyond.

Students worked collaboratively on many projects, learning everything from graphic design to research to conducting interviews for an ongoing oral history project that began in 2018.

The project culminated in an immersive showcase titled Queer Stories and Spaces for the Muncie community held at the Cornerstone Center for the Arts. Spectators walked through various exhibits and displays that included multimedia artwork, zines (mini DIY magazines), resources, recorded interviews with community members, photos, and a timeline of Muncie’s LGBTQ+ history. These collaborative and interdisciplinary projects allowed students to engage deeply with their passions while contributing valuable insights and resources to the local community.

“Together, we worked to build a showcase experience that would immerse visitors in LGBTQ+ history and storytelling, emphasizing, highlighting, and giving back to Muncie’s vibrant LGBTQ+ community,” said Johnson, associate professor of history and director of the Muncie LGBTQ+ Oral History Project.

Exploring Interdisciplinary Projects

For Claire Matney, a junior anthropology major, the seminar allowed them to channel their design talents into impactful projects. Their primary focus was to create a “survival guide” for Muncie residents, offering essential resources on topics such as sexual health and harm prevention. The guide provides crucial information to improve wellbeing and safety.

Claire Matney, a student of the Honors College showing her work at the Virginia Ball Center Seminar

Matney’s design expertise was also used in developing promotional materials and interactive exhibits for the showcase, which also included performance art, poetry, and a timeline of queer history highlighting local and national events.

“I wasn’t responsible for the interviews, but we were going back and looking at video montages and pulling clips. One really stood out,” Matney said. “A woman moved to Muncie in the 50s with her wife. She talked about how it didn’t matter if you were gay or straight as long as you were a good person and a good neighbor. That’s all that mattered. That’s all you need to live in Muncie. That was amazing—how open and accepting Muncie has been as a community.”

Maggie Hibbetts (stage name: Magnolia Star), a first-year public history major with minors in women’s and gender studies and fashion, was able to combine all of her passions. Her involvement in the seminar centered around two main projects: a drag performance celebrating Muncie’s iconic drag queens and a piece of textile art titled Queerness isn’t JEANetic.

Maggie Hibbets, a student of the Honors College putting on a drag show as her LGBTQ+ History and Culture Showcase at the Virginia Ball Seminar

This project was a personal exploration of queerness, represented through the embroidery of symbols on a pair of carpenter jeans. Through these symbols, Hibbetts blended her artistic talents with her research in LGBTQ+ history. The jeans were cleverly displayed on a record turntable at the showcase so the audience could view her handiwork from all sides. Her performance celebrated the rich history of local drag culture, drawing inspiration from local drag queens’ unique looks and performances.

“I’ve met a ton of people through this project that I’ve loved collaborating with and bouncing ideas off of,” Hibbetts said. “I’m very happy that I was able to make some new connections and grateful that I’ve learned so much about the history of the LGBTQ+ community in America and in Muncie. I’ve also loved the research opportunities outside of my own individual projects.”

Enriching Muncie and Empowering Students

The Virginia Ball Center Seminar projects exemplify how academics can intersect with community engagement and cultural exploration. Students felt empowered to pursue their passions and contribute to local history and culture while enriching Muncie by preserving and celebrating the LGBTQ+ community.

“We learned so much from each other and community members as we developed our individual and shared contributions to the project,” Dr. Johnson said. “This experience allowed each of us to learn more about our community’s history and develop new artistic, analytical, and practical skills as we worked toward our shared goals.”

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