Diana Natalicio’s more than 30-year presidency at UTEP is somewhat of an anomaly in higher education, so the university decided to document the history of the soon-to-retire outgoing president through an equally unique metric: T-shirts.
“My Tenure in T-shirts” is an exhibition that represents more than 30 years of UTEP affinity and UTEP community.
Each T-shirt tells a particular story about the university’s rich history through language, design, color and pop culture.
Throughout her three-decade tenure, Natalicio has amassed an impressive collection of UTEP and UTEP-related T-shirts – mostly given to her as gifts.
She encountered the colorful array of T-shirts tucked away in a closet in the Hoover House, the official residence of UTEP presidents and one of the most iconic historic homes in El Paso.
So why all the fuss over a collection of T-shirts?
Those who work in higher education often take the power of a simple T-shirt for granted.
After all, we regularly see a variety of university-related T-shirts every day on our campuses. They are a campus fashion staple.
But, if you think about it, there is something profoundly important about the messages on those shirts.
They are, in every way, the very idea of personal expression that is regularly encouraged on college campuses. T-shirts convey ideas and celebrate accomplishment. They document history and they unite the university community. Most of us have at least one in our closets.
Natalicio has 354.
“As the number of UTEP unique T-shirts in my collection grew, I began to see that they offered a unique perspective on specific events and milestones in UTEP’s history over the past 30 years,” Natalicio said.
Several members of the UTEP family who helped with the exhibit called it a labor of love.
Among them is Director of University Events Liz Thurmond, who sorted through the garments and had the gargantuan task of creating a cohesive and coherent historical narrative out of hundreds of yards of spun cotton.
She said it has been a fun and enlightening experience.
Her team arranged the shirts by size and color to help with the aesthetics of the exhibit, and by their many themes – nostalgic shirts or athletics-related shirts, for example.
For Thurmond, many of the shirts brought back fond memories, while others gave her a good laugh.
Some notable T-shirts include a list of 10 relatable facts preceded by the phrase “You know you went to UTEP if…” and a simple white T-shirt with the ironic phrase “I’ve been president of UTEP for 10 years and all I got is this lousy T-shirt!”
No matter what special meaning or feelings are evoked through UTEP T-shirts, there may be an old shirt or two that you may recognize in the “My Tenure in T-shirts” exhibit.