The Lory Student Center Plaza is attracting a lot of attention because of recent student demonstrations.
Last week, in addition to the interspersed peace signs, a large barbeque was sparked up with two huge speakers blaring country music in support for the war with Iraq.
Recent student activism joins a deep history of student involvement in civil rights, anti-war and women’s rights demonstrations at CSU.
James E. Hansen, emeritus professor of history and CSU archivist, is the author of the book “Democracy’s College in the Centennial State.” The book outlines CSU’s roots from a one-room agricultural school through the height of student activism in the early 1970s, which culminated in the burning of Old Main by an unknown arsonist.
“History seems to go through cycles of selfishness and idealism. Abuses caused by materialism lead to periods of reform, often involving governmental intervention. Eventually, movements exhaust themselves and break up because of the inability to compromise. People then return to a self-focused outlook,” said Hansen in an interview.
In the 1890s, idealism among CSU students and faculty centered on the belief that American industrialism had gotten out of hand and the system needed to be changed, Hansen said.
Many CSU female faculty members participated in the Colorado Suffrage Movement that ended with their right to vote in local and state elections in 1893.
Eliza Routt, for which a building on College and Laurel is named, was an active feminist who launched the home economics program to provide women with education and job opportunities.
By the 1930s, nearly 25 percent of the workforce was unemployed, and the American system seemed a failure. Student activism heightened and so did government reform, Hansen said.
Post-World War I, American isolationist foreign policy and anti-war student attitudes culminated in a campus wide teach-in. On April 22, 1937, all university classes were dedicated to discussing the pros and cons of war for an entire day in coordination with a national peace strike.
“It was an educational day and an appropriate one,” Hansen said. “That’s what colleges should be doing, exposing people to different positions.”
CSU student activism may have lessened for a time, until the sixties.
“In the ’60s, anything traditional was bad and had to be turned over,” Hansen said.
In the spring of 1963 about 12 students participated in a national boycott of the Woolworth chain store for supporting Jim Crow laws in the South.
James Meredith, the first African-American student to attend the University of Mississippi, spoke about race relations at CSU to nearly 1,500 people.
“It was an exciting time to be a teacher,” Hansen said. “Students had such an interest in history. In class everybody had their hand up, and some would even interrupt my lectures in order to express an opinion.”
Hansen taught the first African-American history class at CSU. He laughed in his office as he shared the predicament of being a blond-haired, blue-eyed professor teaching African-American history. Hansen assigned two African American students to teach the recitation in order to promote a more equitable learning environment.
The first women’s studies class was taught by two men, he added.
For the most part college was viewed as a place where a woman could acquire some solid domestic training and a good husband, Hansen wrote in Democracy’s College in the Centennial State.
Until the late 1960s, female students at CSU were required to live in the dorms, abide by a curfew and have a chaperone to attend co-ed outings.
In 1967, 2,500 students broke curfew by participating in a stay-out demonstration in front of the Moby Gym for female student’s rights.
1968 was a year of national turmoil. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy were assassinated. Rioting at the Chicago Democratic Convention upset national order. Richard Nixon became president and the Vietnam War pressed on.
In February, the student group Peace Action Now hosted a silent vigil in the student plaza for peace in Vietnam. The demonstrators were assaulted with eggs and water balloons from students with differing opinions about the war.
Doug Phelps, Associated Students of CSU president, used student fee money to rent a helicopter and drop leaflets on campus announcing a demonstration to liberate the student center in order to make it student-governed.
On March 5, several hundred people marched down College Avenue in an anti-war demonstration. A truck tried to drive over peaceful participants and the Fort Collins Police maced several disrupters who attempted to keep participants from marching.
Throughout 1968, Evan Green, editor of The Collegian, wrote a series of editorials accusing CSU administration of racism and calling for President William E. Morgan to resign.
In late 1969 students participating in a national boycott of grapes, protesting the Mexican and Chicano migrant worker’s conditions, overturned tables at a campus conference banquet lunch where grapes were being served.
In 1970, students with clenched fists in the black-power salute stormed the floor of the Brigham Young University vs. CSU basketball game in demonstration of the racist practices of the Mormon Church. The Fort Collins riot squad and police showed up and fighting broke out. Six African American students were reprimanded.
After the National Guard opened fire, killing four students at Kent State University during an anti-war protest, CSU Collegian writers adopted the language Kent State 4 and CSU 6, referring to the numbers of African American students they believed were singled out for punishment due to their race.
On May 7 and 8 1970, a CSU campus-wide strike ensued coinciding with a national strike in protest of the Cambodia bombings during Vietnam. Teach-ins were conducted, and classes were either boycotted or devoted to discussion of war-related issues. Two thousand people marched for peace to the Fort Collins City Hall.
Friday evening, May 8, the peaceful activities continued with a concert until smoke started to appear in the sky.
In an unknown arsonist’s attempt to burn down the ROTC building, the historic Old Main building caught fire and was destroyed.
“The burning of Old Main did not end student activism, however the movements seemed to lack the edge of the ’60s,” Hansen wrote in “Democracy’s College in the Centennial State.”
“In the ’80s, most students seemed more interested in finding good jobs then in embracing good causes,” Hansen wrote in an email. “There seemed little motivation to confront the establishment generally, but individual groups were willing to fight for their own interests. This was particularly true for women, and the women’s movement was strong and vital for much of this decade.”
Hansen has almost completed writing the second historical edition of CSU history spanning from 1975 to present.
The cyclical pattern of history Hansen described can be applied to the current state, national and international events.
“The Air Force Academy is a classic example of how women continue to be punished for trying to find an equal place in the military,” Hansen said. “They were made to think that they were the reason for the problem because they complained.”
Pull out info:
On April 22, 1937, all university classes were dedicated to discussing the pros and cons of war for an entire day in coordination with a national peace strike.
On May 8 in an unknown arsonist’s attempt to burn down the ROTC building, the historical Old Main building caught fire and was destroyed.