Acadia Roher is graduating this month with a master’s degree in public history from UA Little Rock. After completing her thesis, “Urban Renewal in Little Rock’s Dunbar Historic Neighborhood: A Walking Tour,” the new graduate will begin her career as a historical research associate in Maryland.
Why did you choose to study at UA Little Rock?
I chose to study at UA Little Rock because I didn’t want to move out of Little Rock. It was really important for my community work that I stayed here. There also aren’t that many programs in Arkansas available to get a master’s degree in public history. Dr. Barclay Key, a friend and neighbor who is a professor in the history department, encouraged me to apply. This was a really good option.
What is the topic of your thesis?
My thesis is titled, “Urban Renewal in Little Rock’s Dunbar Historic Neighborhood: A Walking Tour.” I decided to do a project thesis. When working as a graduate assistant for the Center for Arkansas History and Culture (CAHC), the project I was most involved in was mapping renewal.
We digitized and analyzed all of the materials that UA Little Rock has about mapping renewal in Little Rock and its impact on the city. I have been really interested in all the forces that shape our city, particularly in relation to segregation. The Dunbar neighborhood was the first urban renewal project in Little Rock that set the stage in Little Rock, so it felt like the best place to start.
Who was your favorite professor or mentor?
Dr. Marta Cieslak, from Poland, taught an incredible women’s history class. In all of our readings and discussions with her, the way that she brought out everyone in the classroom was absolutely incredible.
What are some of the highlights from your college career?
My graduate assistantship/internship at CAHC was the highlight from September of 2018 until September 2021. I got to do so many cool projects there, and they really saw it as an extension of our learning process. All of the GAs had meetings every week to grow and learn together academically. I feel like I walked away knowing what an archivist does and basically how to do every step that we would need to know.
Were you involved in any community work or have a job?
I was involved in a lot of community work, with the main one being public education. I think having democratic control of our schools is really important. The LRSD was under state control for five years starting in 2015, so I was a part of a group that was holding the state accountable for what was happening within the school district. We were pushing for them to hand over control back to the community. I also was a nonprofit consultant with contract work doing anything from facilitated meetings to a strategic planning process.
What are you looking forward to after graduation?
I will be making a big move to Maryland. I got a job at the Montgomery County planning department to be a historical research associate. We will be looking into racial covenants. Racial covenants were created when a subdivision developer would require that only white Americans could buy or rent certain properties. It still has a huge impact on our landscape today and how they continue to develop. Montgomery County is looking at this history to undo and repair some of the harm that was done. I’m looking forward to being in a new place, and this research is really important to me. I think this is the kind of work that needs to be happening all over the country.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
One of the reasons I’m moving to Maryland is because my sister just had a baby, and I really want to be close to her. So hopefully, I will have a 10-year-old nephew that I will be close to. I also want to get involved in housing justice work in Maryland, being there for my family, and making a living wage. Doing research or working as an archivist is something that matters and is meaningful to me.
What is the best advice you were given or would like to give to new college students?
If you have to write a paper that involves any kind of historic research, ask archivists and librarians. Don’t be afraid to ask the reference desk. What I’ve learned from being at CAHC, people who work there know all these treasures that are waiting for students to find them. They’re difficult to come by on your own, but if you speak with an archivist, they’ll be ecstatic that you’re interested and will want to help you.