History undergraduate student Racquel West was featured by the UW College of Arts & Sciences Perspectives Newsletter for her work at the Burke Museum and her research with The Suquamish Museum for her history honors thesis.
On her twenty-first birthday, UW senior Racquel West spent the afternoon visiting museums. It was free admission day in Tacoma, Washington and she couldn’t resist.
“I went to all the museums in Tacoma,” laughs West. “I’ve always been interested in museums and knowledge-sharing. I was really excited to spend my birthday that way.”
It’s not as if West is deprived of museums the rest of the year. Since March she has served as assistant outreach coordinator for the Burke Museum's Bill Holm Center for the Study of Northwest Native Art, working about 20 hours a week. Twice a month she travels to the Port Madison Indian Reservation to volunteer and conduct research in the archives of the Suquamish Museum.
West has loved museums since childhood, but she hadn’t considered working at a museum until studying abroad in New Zealand through a UW Department of American Indian Studies program. The program focused on learning from and with the Maori people, indigenous to New Zealand. The class included museum visits and discussions of how the Maori have been misrepresented in museum settings.
“That was a really big wake-up call,” says West. “We discussed that museums and other institutions of knowledge hold so much power. I’d always believed everything I read in museums, but I learned that you should critique everything. I wasn’t raised to do that, and I think most people are not. The study abroad experience really sparked my interest in the institutional responsibility of museums.”
Back on campus, West delved deeper into the issue as a double major in geography and history. She was intrigued by geography first, drawn to the discipline’s focus on the ways we move through the world. She added history soon after, finding synergy between the two fields.