A brief history of college protests

The students standing in a rough semicircle before Pick-Staiger Concert Hall on Friday shouted to claim the attention of the hundreds of donors filing past on their way to the kickoff of Northwestern’s “We Will” fundraising campaign.

They chanted, “We want protection, not misdirection,” passing out pamphlets with their demands for the university to make itself a safer place through transparency, objectivity and appropriate action.

“Appropriate action is not allowing someone who has been charged with sexual assault to continue to teach,” said Andrea Azem, a sophomore in the School of Communication, there to protest the continued employment of Professor Peter Ludlow, who was accused of sexual assault by a student. “I think it’s ridiculous that he’s still allowed to be here.”

While Professor Ludlow is the current face of Northwestern students’ push for justice, however, the demands they are making are not new.

Over 50 years ago, sentiments penned by college students in the stirrings of 1960’s counter-culture echo much of what we as students still feel today.

“We are the people of this generation,” they wrote in the 1962 Port Huron Statement, “bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit.”

“We would replace power rooted in possession, privilege, or circumstance by power and uniqueness rooted in love, reflectiveness, reason, and creativity.”

All around them, students saw destruction and competition, a vast, out of control machine run on money and greed.

“As a social system we seek the establishment of a democracy of individual participation,” they wrote, “that the individual share in those social decisions determining the quality and direction of his life.”

Like the protesters on Friday, the authors of the Port Huron Statement felt as outsiders to a wall of opaque decisions and restriction of freedom.

Sexual harassment, discrimination in the workplace, prohibition of certain points of view, these are all ways of restricting personal freedoms, and issues that we continue to grapple with today.

Of course, it’s easy to point out the places where nothing has changed, where students continue to feel restrained and vulnerable to loss of freedom. But progress exists too.

In 1963, the Equal Pay Act attacked sexual discrimination in the workplace. Throughout the 60’s and into the modern era, rights against sexual and racial discrimination gained and lost ground.

In 1966, students marched on our very campus in protest of Dean of Students James C. McLeod, condemning him for putting a stop to an episode of what many would today would consider sexual harassment. According to an article in The Daily Northwestern from April 29th of that year, the pickets were shouting for his removal because McLeod called a halt to a panty raid.

“The boys weren’t running upstairs raping women, they were just having a good time,” were the reported words of one protester.

Think something like that would fly on campus these days? Fat chance.

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