Students go on a ‘trip’ with Dreyfus
Few figures loom larger in the history of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point than Lee Sherman Dreyfus. The man with the red vest served as president and then chancellor of the university from 1967 to 1977 and was a powerful force during a turbulent time in Stevens Point and on college campuses nationwide.
It was the pull of Dreyfus and his role during this period – along with one noteworthy quote –that inspired history students Ryan Bottomley
and Kyle Ebelt
to make Dreyfus the subject of a documentary film for their History 395 course, taught by assistant professor Sarah Scripps
Bottomley and Ebelt are members of the History Club, which was brainstorming ideas for a group activity. Turning their attention to their home school, Bottomley was interested in buildings and the gradual expansion of campus over time, while Ebelt was interested in student activism.
“We were talking about how we could combine our ideas and were standing in front of the stairwell for an hour after class one night,” says Bottomley. “We got out the Justus Paul book (The World Is Ours – A History of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, 1894-1994), and it was all Dreyfus.”
Thus the title of the students’ documentary – “Foundations of UWSP: A Trip with LSD” – inspired by a quote from Dreyfus at his installation as chancellor, referencing both his initials and the drug culture.
“My initials are LSD and we’re going on a trip together somewhere.”
A check of YouTube revealed no historically focused UW-Stevens Point video, so the team moved forward with the project. Ebelt “lived in the archives,” says Bottomley, diving deep into the decade Dreyfus served. “Once I had all the information, we found a common theme and took out parts that didn’t fit the theme,” says Ebelt.
Beyond Dreyfus, the unifying themes were articulated by a trifold in the 1971 edition of the Iris, the UW-Stevens Point yearbook: perceptions of the Vietnam War, environmental activism, sexuality (as expressed in the yearbook’s faux Playboy section) and drug culture. Assisted by university archivist Ruth Wachter-Nelson, the pair then went about finding subjects to speak with on camera, with Bottomley filming and Ebelt conducting the interviews.
“The first one was rough, getting used to the process of talking to someone and asking questions, then asking impromptu questions based off the answers,” says Ebelt. “But as I got to the third and fourth interview it became fairly natural, using parts of other interviews to compile better questions.”
Subjects included former students Tom Reich
and Tim Siebert
, current political science professor Ed Miller
and professor emeritus of history William Skelton
. All made valuable contributions to the documentary.
“One thing we learned more about was the ‘beer riots,’” says Bottomley. “All we had on that were two pictures and a brief mention in the Paul book. Tom talked for 20 minutes about it. It gave us incredibly valuable information that we wouldn’t have gotten from written sources.”
It was a learning experience not just for the students but for Scripps as well. For instance, she is interested in possibly teaching interviewing as an entire course. “Oral history is much more time consuming and cumbersome than people realize,” she says.
Ebelt and Bottomley found this out the hard way as script development consumed more time than originally anticipated, leaving a compressed time frame for editing. “Writing a script and reading a script out loud, seeing how it fits with the visual components, it’s an organic process,” says Scripps. “You have to go back and do several iterations of it. The technical aspects are going to influence the writing.
“I’ll be teaching this class again in the spring, and now we have a better sense of how to move forward doing documentaries as a department. Ryan and Kyle were guinea pigs, but overall had a very positive experience, hopefully one we can replicate in future semesters.”
Future students will have the opportunity to build off the carefully chosen “Foundations of UWSP” title, further exploring university history. Ebelt would like to dig deeper into campus life during wartime, and Bottomley remains interested in looking more closely at Old Main, Nelson Hall and other historic buildings.