By George Dornbach
Last week’s event, “We’ve Only Just Begun – Students’ Experiences During the 1970s”, brought four St. John’s University alumni back to Collegeville to discuss race, social justice and activism that was present during their time on campus.
The four panelists, John E. Adams ’77, Charles Bush ’75, Ronald Morris ’70 and Lewis Nixon ’71, spoke to a diverse audience of students and faculty sharing their stories and making connections from the past to the present.
In the early 70s the four panelists were a part of the Organization for Afro-American Students, a group on campus that acted as a social gathering space for people with similar experiences to gather, discuss racial issues on campus and just let loose.
Ken Jones, professor of history at CSB/SJU, moderated the discussion and gave context to the time frame the events were taking place.
“In the late 60s and 70s, the black population on campus was at 1 percent,” K. Jones said. “There were 15 people who looked alike, but came from different backgrounds and cultures; predominantly Bahemian and African American students.”
One of the topics discussed in the panel was that in the 70s, there was a struggle to unite the two groups on campus. A similar experience to today, says Jaheer Jones, a junior political science major who attended the event.
“We’re at the point today where students of color are trying to share our experiences with each other,” J. Jones said. “There are students who may look alike, but have different experiences and expectations based on where they’ve lived.”
Another discussion point was that of the culture created on the two campuses.
What it means to be a Bennie and Johnnie has, for the most part stayed the same. He said that for some people, particularly students of color who decide to come to CSB/SJU, they may have to change who they are to better adapt to the school’s culture.
“Because the culture has stayed the same over the years,things such as better discussion, greater understanding of our differences and struggles haven’t necessarily improved. It’s as if we’re riding a wave,” J. Jones said.
Despite wishing that aspects of the conversation with the panel were less filtered, J. Jones who is the Chairman of the Cultural Affairs Board and Vice President of the Black Student Association, thought the alumni did a good job of relating their experiences to those of students today.
“It was good for students who are newer to conversations like this; it wasn’t intimidating, and didn’t push them away,” J, Jones said. “But for students who are passionate about race issues on campus, we were ready for deeper conversations. I’m excited for more events like this to help further the dialogue on campus.”