CHANGING STYLES OF STUDENT PROTEST
by Jo Freeman
Published in Moderator, Vol. 8, No. 3, April 1969, p. 17-19.
This is a sit-in? It's more like an educational fair!" commented
one student last February as the marathon sit-in at the University
of Chicago entered its second week. The atmosphere of euphoria that
pervaded the campus that week after 400 students had invaded the Administration
building gave the University a carnival-like climate that remained
almost until the end of the 16-day sit-in.
this time, in response to the massive demonstrations, virtually every
department canceled classes for one or two days to hold special workshops
and meetings on the structure of the University and the quality of
education being offered. It was these two developments which prompted
many students to comment that this week was the most exciting and
educational one they had experienced in their university careers.
joy was in marked contrast to the tension that characterized the first
massive student sit-in at the University of California at Berkeley
during the Free Speech Movement of 1964. At that time sentiments of
anger, fear and suspicion were the only ones to be found on the campus,
and the only classes canceled were those stopped by the student strike.
the slightly more than four years between the first sit-in and the
longest sit-in there has been a drastic increase in the frequency
of massive demonstrations and the ease with which student grievances
are escalated into protests. There has also been a change, on some
campuses at least, in Administrative response. The differences in
the course of the demonstrations at the California and Chicago campuses
illustrate some of these changes as well as some fundamental differences
of style and organization between the two universities.
important factors contributing to the ease with which protests are
mounted at Berkeley are: (1) a student community traditionally committed
to social criticism and change; and (2) its centralization. The Administration
building, rally area, student union, cafeteria, and bookstore all
face each other across a mall which forms the main entrance to campus.
Thus a few leafleteers can gather an audience very quickly and inform
them of the situation. However, these same factors make it easy for
the Administration to know what the students are saying and doing
and the extent of their support.
Chicago, where there has never been much commitment to activism, everything
is decentralized; even the major decision making power is in the hands
of the tenured faculty of the different departments rather than the
Administration. This makes it difficult for radicals to recruit support,
but they can and do utilize the student infrastructure as a substitute.
This infrastructure, composed primarily of student departmental organizations,
does not exist at Berkeley. It is a less efficient means of communication
and recruitment, but its diversity also makes it virtually impossible
for the faculty and administration to know the extent of student feeling.
everyone was surprised when more than 1,000 students showed up at
a meeting in late January to decide whether to hold a sit-in. The
conflict had been brewing since the quarter began, when the campus
paper, The Maroon, announced the Sociology Department's decision
not to reappoint Assistant Professor Marlene Dixon, committed radical
scholar, active feminist, and the first woman to hold a teaching position
in that department in 19 years.
issue provided the catalyst for a lot of student demands that had
been festering for along time. In addition to the rehiring of Mrs.
Dixon, the students made several student power demands, including
that of joint power with faculty on tenure and other important decision
making committees. The local chapter of the Women's Liberation Front,
WRAP (Women's Radical Action Project), also protested the University's
general attitude toward women students, the lack of women on the faculty,
and the absence of courses on women.
demands were much more radical than the students at Berkeley would
ever have thought of making during the FSM -- at that time faculty
power was considered a step forward. But the underlying dissatisfaction
of many Chicago students with the quality of education and the nature
of the University was the same as it had been at Berkeley. The response
of the Administration, however, was vastly different.
the Battle of Berkeley, the Administration and the students played
a strict confrontation game. There were clear issues, clear polarities,
and many of the faculty eventually sided with the students because
they, too, had grievances against the Administration and something
to gain from the disruptive situation. The Administration precipitated
all the major clashes at Berkeley. The FSM Steering Committee tried
several times to get student support for confrontation but only succeeded
after some particularly gross Administrative "atrocity"
-- such as the arrest or suspension of students. The Administration
either ignored the students or overreacted and most of the time the
faculty was uninterested or powerless to alter the course of events.
however, was not a battle but a siege, and one in which the Administrations'
endurance proved to be the strongest. Despite the fact that the Administration
had appointed a special committee to look into the Dixon case and
was at least paying lip service to some of the other student demands,
over 400 students took over the Administration building one Thursday
morning and turned it into a combined student union, free university,
revolution central, dormitory, and self-expression center. The walls,
inside and out, were festooned with graffiti, art, balloons, and posters.
All-night political meetings alternated with all-night parties. University
typewriters, Xerox machines and mimeographs were put to constant use.
Community sympathizers brought in hot food many nights to relieve
the monotonous peanut butter/apples/bologna fare. The students barricaded
themselves inside to await the Administration's attack.
never came. On the surface the Administration steadfastly ignored
the protestors. They refused to meet with them or to call in the police.
They evacuated their employees and left the building to the students.
The students, in turn, kept out all non-students except sympathetic
faculty, switchboard operators (the university hospital switchboard
was on the sixth floor), and known security guards (out of uniform
for their own protection). The latter remained in the building, on
shifts, two to a floor, 24 hours a day, for the duration of the sit-in
and became quite friendly with the protestors, even sharing in the
community food and coffee. They were there to prevent vandalism but
did not stop students from making extensive use of university supplies
and facilities. When a dozen outside right-wingers invaded the building
to beat up the protestors, the campus police helped evict them and
even stood security detail for the students when their numbers dwindled
during the last days. (They let no one in the building without a student
a tactic, the sit-in was used too soon at Chicago. By the time the
University executed its major atrocity, the students had exhausted
themselves and their major weapon. Thus, when the special committee
upheld the decision not to rehire Mrs. Dixon, the only way the students
had of reacting was to de-escalate and call off the sit-in. So 16
days after it began, tired and dispirited, the students packed up
the meantime, other faculty and students took things into their own
hands. Several faculty members showed up at the building to "finger"
students they knew and 60 protestors were suspended. Many were also
fired from University jobs and kicked out of University housing. Other
students joined in WITCH (Women's International Terrorist Conspiracy
from Hell) hexes, or in roving guerilla bands which combined the hippie
and political styles of the campus into a bizarre and mindblowing
synthesis. They called themselves the "Chicken-shits" because
they wanted to support the sit-in but were too chickenshit to go inside.
Many of these students had been suspended for participating in a sit-in
protesting academic rankings two years before.
guerilla bands were the most innovative tactic used by the students.
The sit-in, once it occurred, was no longer a threat but a fact, and
could be dealt with predictably. But no one knew what the guerrillas
would do next as they wandered around the campus tooting horns and
whistles, shooting cap pistols, carrying a bright orange flag, and
harassing members of the Administration and the disciplinary committee.
The latter changed its place of meeting so often to escape the guerrillas
that the common joke on campus was that it was really a floating crap
from these two developments, the general attitude of the University
was that of extreme permissiveness. Faculty and graduate student organizations
vied with each other to cancel classes to hold departmental workshops.
The college likewise scheduled special discussions in the evenings
for the undergraduates. Many of these discussions were intense, but
the faculty were almost too polite, to the point of disinterest, when
graduate organizations suggested abolishing prelims and other groups
suggested abolishing courses. The faculty and the Administration were
so co-operative that the students felt they were not being taken seriously.
As the student radio station, WHPK, commented, the University had
not overreacted, it had underreacted.
was frustration at this failure to get much of a reaction pro or con
out of the faculty or the Administration coupled with a growing realization
that the real power to meet students' demands lay with the faculty
and not the Administration, that led to the increasing mass hysteria
after the sit-in ended. Acts of terrorism began. Student stormed the
President's house and kicked in a glass door. Faculty members who
had turned in students' name were pushed and spit at. The effects
of stink bombs were smelled everywhere. Classes were disrupted with
guerilla theater skits. The Quad Club, favorite luncheon spot and
bastion of faculty power, was marched on by the moderates who circled
it seven times chanting, "Walls fall down." The University
closed its computer center because protesters at a Montreal campus
had destroyed one there, and plainclothesmen policed the library and
other strategic spots.
these developments the campus settled down to an uneasy truce. The
Administrative juggernaut expelled some students and disciplined others.
Faculty liberals talked of bringing police on campus to arrest the
terrorists -- a move they would have been totally aghast at only weeks
before. Most of the students were tired and just wanted to return
to their classes, but they were also dissatisfied with the course
Administration had failed to respond to their demands. The faculty
had raised expectations with their initial concerned response but,
after the immediate crisis was over, had tried to return to normalcy.
Nothing was settled. The revolution had been thwarted by the promise
of reform and that promise was in danger of being breached. There
was neither a feeling of victory nor that of a battle lost but well
fought. Yet slowly, painfully, some changes in attitudes were taking
place. During the FSM, Mario Savio had remarked that he would prefer
a brilliant defeat to a drab victory. This is what happened at Berkeley.
The students gained a psychological victory but little substantive
change came out of their efforts. At Chicago, it may be that the opposite
is the case, despite psychological defeat.
Although the Thermidorian reaction has now set in, for a while the
university community went through one of those intense emotional experiences
that generally occur only during nervous breakdowns, religious conversions,
and political revolutions. Tremendous creative energies were released
and it is doubtful that they can easily be repressed again. The future
is not yet clear but it may well be that at the University of Chicago
the students have gained a drab victory.