By Stephanie Haeg – [email protected]
In light of the recent discussions about on-campus protests, I thought it might be worth taking a look at CSB/SJU’s long and illustrious tradition of student protests.
Protests are as much of a campus tradition as the Chapel Walk or Johnnie/Tommie and they’ve taken all sorts of forms over the years, depending on the environment and situation.
Protest topics have included everything from guest speakers to civil rights activism, and it hasn’t been uncommon for alumnae/i to get involved. Students have been arrested, criticized in national newspapers and cheered on. Some protests have been successful, others haven’t. Many of the issues involve topics that we might be familiar with, while others would seem obscure to us.
While many people might have been upset at last week’s protests disrupting their daily routines, that protest was a ripple in the pond in comparison to the largest on-campus protest on record, April 1972.
To protest the presence of ROTC on campus because it was considered to be an endorsement of the Vietnam War, CSB/SJU students teamed up to close the roads in and out of SJU, effectively shutting down the campus for the day.
The Vietnam War was, unsurprisingly, the source of many campus protests. In 1970 CSB/SJU teamed up with students from the school which would become St. Cloud State University and shut down Division Street in protest.
Earlier that year, the SJU student government organized a march through the streets of St. Cloud to protest the killing of four student protestors by the National Guard at Kent State. The opening of the Alcuin Library in 1966 was picketed to send a message to Vice President Hubert Humphrey, a Vietnam War supporter.
Not all protests were as disruptive as these marches and shut downs. Student sit-ins were also common during this time period.
The most notable was the 1970 sit-in at the SJU President’s office, when African-American students demanded recognition and money to fund a student organization.
But there have been plenty of others over the years, often for the firing or non-renewal of professors. Other variations of protest have involved letter writing campaigns, from both alumnae/i and students: one of the earliest instances of this form was the protest from St. Paul alumnae/i on the admission of African-American students to CSB, to wearing rainbow ribbons to Mass to protest official Catholic opposition, to same sex marriage, to holding up anti-war signs on the footbridge over I-94 to protest the invasion of Iraq.
Other topics of protest over the years include campus speakers, such as communist activist Angela Davis and the Bush twins (in 1972 and 2004), and the time students were irritated by the administration’s ban on a Firehouse Theater (a forerunner to the Twin City’s Mixed Blood Theater) production.
The group, being free-spirited and new-age, wished to perform a “Faustus” naked. Initially, the administration denied them, and the play was to be shown in Avon instead. But after a last minute cancelation, the administration allowed it to be performed at the SJU gym, in hopes of preventing further protests.
When issues aren’t resolved students often continue to protest. Back to the large campus shut-down, obviously the ROTC was not removed from campus. But the issue didn’t die down. Well into the ‘80s, students would protest every Wednesday (the day the ROTC students wore their uniforms), arguing that it was un-Benedictine to have a military presence on campus. These protests were small, sometimes as small as one person, but they were persistent.
CSB/SJU have a proud history of students standing up for what they believe in.
It’s far from new, and I suspect the boxes in the archives dedicated to issues like this will only grow.
Feature photo courtesy of The Record archive.