SRU student compiling a history of homecoming and May queens


Dan O’Connor selected Anna Swartwout to research and write an oral history of former SRU homecoming queens

Slippery Rock University English professor Mark O’Connor selected Anna Swartwout to research and write an oral history of former SRU homecoming queens. Swartwout received a $725 Summer Undergraduate Research Experience grant to support her work.

July 11, 2017

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - How true is the expression "Uneasy is the head that wears the crown"? A Slippery Rock University student plans to find that answer, and a lot more, in a research project about former SRU homecoming and May queens. Anna Swartwout, a senior English literature major from Renfrew, received a $725 Summer Undergraduate Research Experience grant to research and conduct an oral history project with the working title "The Queens of Slippery Rock."

The idea for the project came from Mark O'Connor, associate professor of English, whose Advanced Creative Nonfiction class explored the University archives last fall in search of material about homecoming. O'Connor saw images of former queens and thought, "We should be talking to these women." To him, the homecoming queen selection and ceremony represents a greater story about gender, race, social and political issues on campus.

"It's going to tell us a lot about this place and who we are and who we were," O'Connor said. "Is this something someone carries with them their whole life or is it something that just happened in college and it's no big deal? I'm very interested in the significance of this moment. I'm also totally pumped about the possibility of discovery."

Equally pumped is Swartwout, who O'Connor identified as the perfect writer to take on the project after she worked on an oral history of last fall's faculty strike that was published in the most recent issue of SLAB, the University's literary magazine.

"I'm most interested to see how (being named homecoming queen) changed their college experience and if it affected them after," Swartwout said. "It's amazing how this title could lead to (someone) being changed as a person."

Swartwout plans to interview as many as 12 former homecoming queens, from the 1960s through the modern era including 2016 queen, Tori Hill, a senior psychology major from Homestead.

The following is an excerpt from one of Swartwout's interviews with Hill, as she explains why she won and what motivated her:

"People saw me trying to make a difference on campus and I think that made the difference in the end," Hill said. "Throughout the homecoming experience, I was able to make a difference on campus and I was able to strive and achieve a goal of mine, which is something that (my younger sorority sisters) can look up to me for. I do it for my little sisters. My little sisters are my everything and I hope that I encouraged them to work for their goals."

Also potentially included in the research will be May queens, which were long ago recognized as part of springtime celebrations on college campuses as virtual equivalents to homecoming queens.

After compiling the interviews, Swartwout will write an oral history that will be published in SLAB. Additionally, she will have the opportunity to submit her article for peer-reviewed journals and present her work at state and national conferences.

The changes Swartwout will follow include how candidates campaign, from using posters in dormitory lobbies to using social media, as well as expectations of queens, from how they dress to completing a community service project.

Currently, SRU homecoming queens are nominated by campus organizations (one nomination per organization) or through a petition (50 signatures from enrolled students). Nominees must also meet certain academic standards before they are placed on an electronic ballot through the student intranet platform. Campaigning is limited to a five-day period before homecoming week and voting takes place the five days leading up to homecoming.

Swartwout also will explore the longitudinal effects: if homecoming queens applied their status in their professional careers, if they experienced a personal transformation and how the perceptions of homecoming queens have changed over time.

"It starts out as their little snapshot in history but we want to take it further to see if it has affected them beyond college," Swartwout said.

The 2017 queen will be crowned at SRU's homecoming game, Oct. 15. SRU's Office of Alumni Engagement will consider uniting former homecoming queens based on responses to the research project.

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