Lorrie Dong Awarded $25k Powers Fellowship

Lorrie Dong

Lorrie Dong, Ph.D. candidate in Archives and Preservation, was awarded a $25k Powers Fellowship for 2012-2013. The fellowship will also pay for Dong’s tuition and fees.

The Powers Graduate Fellowships are among the most prestigious fellowships awarded by the Graduate School at The University of Texas at Austin. Students who receive one of the fellowships are considered to be among the most academically competitive scholars on campus.

A native of Seattle, Lorrie earned an Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) fellowship that provided four years of funding for her master’s degree in preservation administration. She was one of eight students to receive the fellowship.

Dong has always been interested in marginalized populations so in the summer 2010 she accepted an internship with Dr. King Davis, former Commissioner of the Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Davis currently serves as the director of the Institute of Urban Policy Research and Analysis at The University of Texas at Austin. He is also a professor of the Center for African and African American Studies and Department of African and African Diaspora Studies.

I’m hoping my research will help Central State be a model for other institutions on how to handle historic and current records.

Dong spent 2 months that summer at Central State Hospital in Virginia going through their huge collection of medical records. From its founding immediately following the Civil War, until the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Central State Hospital served and treated only African-American that were mentally ill and the criminally insane from the entire state of Virginia. In 1967, the Hospital opened its doors to accept patients regardless of race or national origin and only from the Central Virginia area. Since then, it has served primarily as a high security forensics hospital.

All records—including those dating back to 1870— are located in the hospital. It is the only hospital in Virginia that has not turned its archived (non-active) records over to the Virginia State Libraries and Archives. The records are sitting in boxes that are unorganized and have never been examined for preservation needs.

During her time at the hospital, Dong began her attempt to put the collection in order and to determine the amount of preservation needed to restore some of the records.

“It was a fascinating way to learn about the hospital’s history and I was one of the first people ever to review the collection,” said Dong. “During those days, there were numerous procedures that would not be acceptable today, such as using shock therapies and lobotomies.”

According to Dong, the long-term plan is to get all the records eventually digitized, however, before doing so, numerous privacy and legal issues would have to be faced.

“Of course, HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act enacted in 1996) protects health records against legal and ethical misuse and privacy advocates are against the records going to the state archive,” Dong said. “However, I believe these records are a crucial piece of the state’s cultural heritage.”

Dong plans on taking a qualitative approach to her research and will focus on use of language, how it reflects on that specific time period, how it would reflect today and how it might reflect on our cultural future.

“I’m hoping my research will help Central State be a model for other institutions on how to handle historic and current records. They need to think in the long term. Millions of records exist in organizations dealing with medical, adoptions and impaired individuals, and plans have not been in place for the future use and storage of these records.”

This past spring, both Dong and Davis spoke about the project at the Virginia Forum at James Madison University to an enthusiastic crowd.

Dong will be returning this summer to Central State and will continue her work there in the fall. She plans on graduating in the spring or summer of 2013.

Posted: 05/25/2012

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