Earlier this month, professors in the College of Liberal Arts and School of Information received $763,000 from the Mellon Foundation to help fund research about Virginia's first mental institution designated for African-Americans.

King Davis, School of Information research professor and professor emeritus in African and African Diaspora Studies, and School of Information professors Patricia Galloway and Unmil Karadkar started developing a system in 2008 to preserve and analyze the records from the Central Lunatic Asylum for Colored Insane in Petersburg, Virginia.

The Asylum opened in 1868 and was later renamed Central State Hospital. Before being integrated in 1970, it was the only mental institution for just for African-Americans in Virginia. Central State Hospital is still open today.

Davis said his background with mental health programs has informed his research over the course of the entire project. Between 1972 and 1999, Davis was the commissioner of health for the Commonwealth of Virginia, served as director of community mental health programs and was a Galt Visiting Scholar in Public Mental Health.

“[I had] lots of familiarity with the system because I operated 17 hospitals there,” Davis said.

Galloway’s role on the project is working to digitize the Asylum’s records and create methods to make the information public. She said the team relies on hospital workers’ original accounts to get a better picture of what conditions were like at the when the Asylum operated.

“As ways to gather more information, we are trying to look into accounts by hospital workers,” Galloway said. “We want to see what their job [was] and how they felt about it. This is important because this gives a group of people a voice they did not have.”

Karadkar’s role is analyzing the documents and finding patterns in the information’s content. According to Karadkar, the way historic documents were formatted, differently than they are today, can make research difficult.

“We have well-recognized font type faces, and we have well recognized conventions for printing on paper,” Karadkar said. “When we have hand-written documents, these conventions are not always followed especially when cursive was the normal. The handwriting is tilted, and tilted words are hard to make out because they blend together.”

Karadkar said he and his fellow researchers have received support from the University and inquiries from people who believe they might have personal connections to the Asylum.

“We have already received a tremendous outpouring of support,” Karadkar said. “Every so often, we get emails saying ‘We have ‘so and so, rumored to have been in this hospital.’ What can you tell us?’ So far, there has not been any backlash but a lot of encouragement and hope from people.”

Photo Credit: Ellyn Snider | Daily Texan Staff

In order to solve the current gridlock in Congress, state politicians should create a non-partisan committee to oversee redistricting, according to former U.S. Reps Tom Davis (R-North Dakota) and Martin Frost (R-California).

Davis and Frost spoke at the LBJ School of Affairs on Tuesday about Congress’s inability to compromise effectively and suggested policy reforms that may help alleviate the problem

According to Davis, the three factors that caused dysfunction in Congress are redistricting, media business models and campaign financing.


[With] the advent of single-party districts … these districts are drawn in such a way to where the other party has no chance,” Davis said. 

Davis and Frost’s potential solutions to ending the bipartisan gridlock included requirements on outside donor groups, national primary days for Congress and equal media coverage.

“We recommend that [there be] a national primary day, not for president, but that all congressional elections occur on a single day,” Frost said. “The reason for this is there would be more media coverage.”

According to Frost, members of Congress are afraid to vote moderately or compromise because they fear someone with more extreme views will replace them in the primary. Therefore, Frost and Martin said Congress should pass legislation requiring each state to have a non-partisan commission for redistricting. Six states have already adopted this system, including Indiana, which employs a “fallback” commission if the legislature is unsuccessful in passing a congressional plan.

“What this means is if you have two Democrats in the final election, they have to talk to the Republicans in their districts,” Frost said. “They have to actually go out and seek Republican support, and that happened in the last election in California.”

There is a push from Congress members against this system because without term limits, they can stay in Congress indefinitely, according to Frost.

“Incumbents don’t want to pass any laws that would require people to run against them, and that would be the result if you had some states that were required to have commissions,” Frost said.

Meenakshi Awasthi, global policy studies graduate student, said, since many college students realize their vote doesn’t really count, there needs to be more positive incentive to vote.

"Voting is so archaic, and it hasn’t progressed with technology or our society,” Awasthi said. “It’s difficult to vote. … The lines are difficult, and the timing is hard. It’s just something that you have to go do, and it’s not required.”