A Chronology in Cotton: T-Shirt Exhibit Tells the Undergrad Story

The T-shirts currently on display in the main lobby of the Cecil and Ida Green Center for the Study of Science and Society are a testament to the imprint that Dean J. Michael Coleman has left on the Office of Undergraduate Education at The University of Texas at Dallas.

“The shirts are a good representation of the history of the University,” Coleman said. “Free food and free T-shirts are the common denominators of most events planned for undergraduates. Our students become walking advertisements for the university.”

Student Life in Living Color

Dean Michael Coleman and student

Above: The T-shirt exhibit at Green Hall is like a tour through UT Dallas’ student history.

At side: Clad in one of his many UT Dallas T-shirts, Dean Michael Coleman joins students at the 2008 convocation ceremony.

The University’s undergraduate population grew in a non-traditional way, with admission of the University’s juniors and seniors in 1975, then with freshmen and sophomores in the fall 1990. Several of T-shirts represent Comet Camp, which Coleman has attended since its inception. Garments from the Oozeball faculty-student government competition can be found hanging on the lines. The name of the trophy from that competition? The Coleman Cup.

From Freshman Convocation to Scholars Day, the variety of the undergraduate experience at UT Dallas during Coleman’s tenure is symbolized on the silk-screened cotton and poly-blend creations that hang on the walls and cables of the installation. The sheer number of shirts also documents the growth that has occurred under his leadership.

When Coleman took his post in 1997, 5,264 undergraduates were enrolled at UT Dallas. By the fall of 2009, the number of students seeking bachelor’s degrees had nearly doubled with an enrollment of 9,801.

Coleman has introduced and championed improvements in the quality of the UT Dallas undergraduate experience, including:

  • The current academic advising system.
  • The Eugene McDermott Scholars and Terry Scholars Programs.
  • The pre-health and pre-law advising operations.
  • The organization of intellectual competition teams.
  • The development of a thought-provoking, rigorous undergraduate curriculum.
  • Leadership in the UT System Archer Center program of education and internships in Washington, D.C.
  • Freshman Convocation.
  • Student speakers at graduation.

“The University has provided me several careers, and that’s undoubtedly the reason I’ve stayed so long,” Coleman said. “I think one of the truly most fulfilling parts of these 32 years is to be able to be part of creating a comprehensive undergraduate university.”

Some of the shirts are still worn by students.

“The basis of the collection is simply shirts that I’ve collected over the past 13 years,” Coleman said. “As we looked at how people were commemorating the events, we thought this was a novel way of representing their experiences, one that the students would understand intuitively.”

“The exhibit looks great,” said Andrew Arias, a political science senior. “It reflects the various aspects of school life, and it shows that there’s so much going on at UT Dallas. Not only that, but it is eye-catching and colorful. Very creative.”

Apart from reflecting the dynamic student culture on campus, the exhibit demonstrates the breadth of attention that Coleman has devoted to the project. Although he had been diligent through the years in his acquisition efforts, he realized that, for the purposes of this exhibit, his collection had a few gaps. “We looked at the holes in the collection then went out and solicited shirts from Greek Life and several other places,” he said. “Donna Rogers, Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students, also contributed to the collection.”

Because of their concerted efforts, they eventually collected more than 300 shirts. Some were collared shirts or had long sleeves. Coleman had worn some of the others while playing racquetball so they were perhaps, as he joked, “no longer of exhibit quality.” They decided to display about 130 short-sleeved shirts. Images of the other 170 or so shirts can be seen on a couple of flat-screen monitors hanging on the walls of the Green Center lobby.

Although the idea for the exhibit was Coleman’s and his staff’s, the look of the installation art was the brainchild of artist, art curator and Arts and Humanities faculty member Greg Metz. His idea was to simulate the different angles and heights found in the laundry lines of a Lower East Side tenement alley during the early 20th century. Metz and the students in his undergraduate art installation class ran the cables and hung the T-shirts.

“Every time I come down from our offices on the second floor,” said Cathie Alexander, assistant dean of Undergraduate Education. “I see something new because the light hits it differently, or I see it from the front or the back.”


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Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].