UNLV Remembers: New Oral History Project Launches

Clear acrylic podium with UNLVStrong sign and a floral arrangement with red roses and white flowers. White folding chairs arranged in rows in the background.
The UNLV Oral History Research Center has launched the “UNLV Remembers: An Oral History of the 6 December 2023 Shooting” project to enhance the historical record with first-hand accounts of the tragedy and the campus and community response. (Becca Schwartz/UNLV)

Like most days on Claytee White’s calendar, Dec. 6, 2023, was packed. After finishing a late morning meeting, she had just arrived back at her office in Lied Library for a quick break before heading across town with a colleague to conduct an oral history interview. 

When the first text alert from police services came in just before noon, White called to let the interviewee know she might be a little late. Subsequent shelter-in-place messages soon made her realize something more serious had happened and she would not make the interview. 

White and her colleagues in Special Collections and Archives offered comfort to students during the campuswide lockdown, digging into their desk stashes to provide stacks and providing an ear for their fears.

“We took a few students who were having a hard time back to our offices, and checked on other students who were sheltering in Special Collections, just doing whatever we could think of to keep them calm and help them solve their problems,” said White.

Now that some time has passed, White is hoping to document more stories about the campus shooting like her own. The UNLV Oral History Research Center has launched the “UNLV Remembers: An Oral History of the 6 December 2023 Shooting” project to enhance the historical record around that day with first-hand accounts of the tragedy, campus and community response, and recovery efforts.

“News reports and social media posts contain a first draft of what happened that day, and this project will add to those accounts with more in-depth conversations of what people experienced that day,” said White, who is the founding director of the Oral History Research Center. 

White, along with project manager Stefani Evans, hope to interview students, faculty and staff, alumni, first responders, and other community members about their experiences on Dec. 6 and in the following days, weeks, and months of the recovery process.  

“There are many stories of heroism, bravery, fear, and grace from that day,” Evans said. “This project will be focused on remembering and healing. We plan to interview people in the line of fire, those trapped, those on lockdown, and those with the opportunity to run. Beyond that, we will talk to people who were not on campus and could not reach their colleagues, could not lend aid or share in the panic.”

Most importantly, the center wants to collect remembrances of Patricia Navarro-Velez, Jerry Cha-Jan Chang, and Naoko Takemaru, the three faculty members who were tragically killed in the shooting. 

“These professors had such a tremendous influence on the lives of their students and colleagues. We want to hear and preserve those stories so the impact of their lives is preserved for future generations,” said White. 

The project is designed to be a part of a national mourning and memory effort that researchers can use to document this era in American history. 

“This is a work to honor the legacy of a resilient city that has learned to love beyond measure,” White said.

The OHRC is building on lessons learned from a previous oral history project documenting the community response to the October 1, 2017, shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas. Following the tragedy, the center collected 66 oral histories with survivors, family members of the victims, first responders, community leaders, and more to capture how the community came together and healed from that tragedy.

“Remembering 1 October was such a moving project, focusing on remembering the victims, survivors, and the healing that followed,” said Evans, who co-edited the book, “Healing Las Vegas: The Las Vegas Community Healing Garden in response to the 1 October tragedy.” “We learned how valuable it was, in the months that followed Oct. 1, to collect the stories, and that’s why it’s time to start collecting the stories of Dec. 6.”

How to Add Your Oral History to the UNLV Remembers Project

Anyone interested in participating in an oral history interview is encouraged to fill out the UNLV Remembers participation interest form. Those selected to participate are encouraged to take advantage of the mental health and counseling resources available through the campus and community.

“Discussing and reliving the experiences of that day could cause additional trauma or cause individuals to be retraumatized, so we are encouraging interviewees to take full advantage of the support services available to them and only participate if they feel fully comfortable,” said White. 

In addition, the OHRC team will meet regularly with a counselor to discuss their own experiences interacting with these stories and reduce their own chances of experiencing vicarious trauma. 

How to Donate Other Materials to the Collection

Interviews collected as part of the UNLV Remembers project will be housed in Special Collections and Archives, located in Lied Library. The oral histories will complement Special Collections and Archives’ memorial collection documenting the Dec. 6 shooting. 

“As members of the UNLV community, we are proud to be the custodians of these archival materials and to document the experiences of our university after this tragedy,” said Sarah Quigley, director of Special Collections & Archives. “We know this collection will serve as a lasting tribute to the victims and be a tool for future researchers as they examine this moment in time in our city and our country.”

The collection currently includes items left at spontaneous memorials, such as handwritten notecards, small religious tokens, bracelets, teddy bears, and artificial flowers, as well as videos of the UNLV vigil service held on Dec. 13, 2023, archived UNLV websites, and condolence items sent to campus administration. Additionally, two members of the UNLV community donated their personal photographs and journal entries related to the day of the shooting.

Donations to the collection are still being accepted, including:

  • Artifacts left at public memorials, such as cards, posters, and photographs
  • Artistic responses, such as poetry, music, and drawings
  • Audio and video recordings, such as news coverage, documentaries, and witness recordings
  • Condolence/sympathy/support letters and cards
  • Correspondence (including emails)
  • Memorial programs and artifacts
  • News clippings
  • Photographs
  • Reports
  • Scrapbooks
  • University records, reports, newsletters, policies, social media, and websites

To inquire about donating physical materials to the collection, contact Sarah Quigley or Aaron Mayes, visual materials curator.

The goal of the oral history project and the memorial collection is to create a comprehensive archive that documents all aspects of Dec. 6 and its aftermath.

“This is the first time that anything like this has happened this close, at our university, in our home,” White said. “UNLV Remembers will recount this tragedy, but also demonstrate to the world what has happened in one community as we respond and heal from this horrific shooting.”

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