VT senior brings to life stories of Christiansburg Institute, marginalized communities in Blacksburg, Pulaski, Elliston

VT University Libraries student employee Juan Pacheco’s passion is NRV marginalized communities and their stories.

Juan Pacheco is passionate about people and their stories. As a student employee in the University Libraries Special Collections and University Archives, the senior psychology major is surrounded by stories of people who overcame challenges and formed the foundations for future achievement.

“There are so many stories of hope and education for marginalized communities in the New River Valley,” said Pacheco. “I get to be a part of that.”

In the spring of 2019, Pacheco began transcribing oral interviews of Christiansburg Institute alumni. Christiansburg Institute, an influential African American school once run by Booker T. Washington, was the first of its kind in southwestern Virginia.

“It began in 1866 as a school for educating newly freed slaves after the Civil War. This was the mecca of black education. Almost every student left with an education and a trade,” said Pacheco. “The school and its 100-acre grounds were once so influential, and now I’m happy to be a part of memorializing it.”

These stories document black communities in Pulaski, Elliston, and Blacksburg, homes of the students and their families. Some of the alumni interviewed are now deceased. For this and many other reasons, Pacheco is passionate about transcribing their interviews to share them with the world through Special Collections and University Archives’ online digital library.

He is also transcribing oral interviews of Denim Day participants. Forty years ago, during the week of Jan. 15-19, the Virginia Tech Gay Student Alliance held the first Gay Awareness Week, a multi-event effort to promote awareness of gay and lesbian people throughout campus. The high point was Denim Day, which called on all students, faculty, and staff to show their support of gay rights by wearing denim.

“These stories show how people make their own community in a place they didn’t really feel like they were a part,” said Pacheco. “Empowerment of marginalized people came from somewhere. History is this cycle that’s beautiful to see. There’s empowerment in that cycle, and you make it better for the next generation.”

Pacheco sees his work as an extension of who he is. His mother, alumna Beverly Ann Wood ’75, grew up in poverty. As a first-generation college student, she majored in biology at Virginia Tech and later became a physician. His father is from Puerto Rico. Pacheco treasures his family history and loves to tell stories about caring and cultural sensitivity.

Beyond his work in Special Collections, he serves as a volunteer crew chief for Raft Crisis Hotline for New River Valley Community Services. He is also vice president of Virginia Tech’s student chapter of the NAACP and serves on the Virginia Tech History Council subcommittee that highlights restorative justice efforts for the university’s 2022 sesquicentennial and beyond.

He said it’s all part of his caring for others and living the Virginia Tech motto of Ut Prosim (That I May Serve). “I knew Virginia Tech was the place for me,” Pacheco said. “Because my mom is an alumna, I would frequently visit campus growing up. In a lot of my baby pictures, I had VT gear on. I even had a little VT rattle.”

Delving into the history of Virginia Tech, illuminating once silent stories and advocating for improvements for all marginalized people keeps Pacheco excited, energized and hopeful for the future.

“It makes me happy to see how far we’ve come, but we still have more to go. I’m grateful for the stories that I get to uncover and am grateful for my own family’s stories,” said Pacheco. “Through my work in the University Libraries, I get paid to discover where I belong and share that with the world.”

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