the lobby of a library with a sign reading
In the second floor of Love Library South, the artwork for "Unkissed Kisses" is unassuming yet powerful.

In the second floor of Love Library South at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, students bustle through the corridors and staircases, rushing off to classes or eager to return home after a study session. These students are part of a whirlwind world of academics, and they know it. Many of these students are in a hurry. Others glance down at their phones or chat with fellow students.

But if these students were to look up, they’d notice that the walls in the lobby are covered in images — pictures, art and book covers. With even a closer look, perhaps the students would gain a new perspective as well, one of rediscovered history and visibility.

“Unkissed Kisses” is a new exhibit at Love Library about the past and present of LGBTQ literature at UNL. According to Nebraska Today, the exhibit is a combined project between the English department and departments within UNL Libraries. The exhibit’s curator and director is Timothy Schaffert, an English professor and director of the Creative Writing Program, who said the idea for the exhibit came from course material he was writing.

“I started writing lectures and designing a course and then thought ‘oh, maybe this would make a good digital exhibit.”

Schaffert began writing about Louis Crompton, who taught the first LGBTQ Studies class at UNL, “Proseminar in Homophile Studies” in 1970. Fifty years later, Schaffert began planning events and courses in 2020 to honor Crompton’s contribution, but he also wanted to celebrate more.

“I proposed a course that was specific to the 50 years recognition,” Schaffert said. “Not just the 1970 course, but looking further back into the history and taking it also further forward to the present day.”

Take a look at featured items of the main exhibit below.

Schaffert joined forces with Andrew Jewell, professor and interim chair of Digital Initiatives and Special Collections. The pair created a team, adding Erin Collona, a graphic designer for University Libraries, and Traci Robison, a professor and archivist.

“We started meeting and having discussions about it, and it took shape,” Schaffert said.

The exhibit, just like Schaffert’s vision, stretches far back from the 1970s, featuring Nebraska author Willa Cather and even Oscar Wilde, who visited UNL and, according to the exhibit, criticized the university’s architecture. 

Hear Schaffert talk a bit more about his favorite addition to the exhibit below.

On the other end of the timeline, “Unkissed Kisses” also promotes modern voices. These voices include notable alumni like Roxanne Gay and Emily Danforth, whose doctorate dissertation “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” became an award-winning film. 

Beyond the second floor exhibit, more items are on display in the basement of Love Library South. On the web, the collection also has an online exhibit, including more resources for curious students or anyone else drawn to the history of UNL’s role in LGBTQ past and progress.

Walk through a virtual tour of the digital exhibit below.

“I think it’s cause for celebration and cause for recognition,” Schaffert said. “It’s historically important.”

This sentiment is echoed by Pat Tetreault, director of the university’s LGBTQ+ Center and Women’s Center. Tetreault said the centers focus often on building a community and increasing visibility, which they said is closely tied to history.

“I think this is a wonderful exhibit and celebration,” Tetreault said. “I think celebrations are essential. It does help raise awareness and visibility if people choose to pay attention.”

In a busy academic setting of constant classes and endless homework, paying attention can sometimes be a difficult choice. But an occasional student may stop. They may stumble upon the large portraits and colorful art, and they may choose to learn. 

The collection is open now and will be available through the end of the spring semester.

Emma Krab is a senior journalism and English double major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a focus on environmental, political, health, and rural reporting. She is a student reporter at Nebraska Public Media, and has previously written for Platte Basin Timelapse and the Daily Nebraskan.