Wednesday, 16 of April of 2014

The Lead Up to 1969

The 1968-69 school year saw both a rise in awareness about civil rights issues and a decline in student activism. Meanwhile, the administration was becoming more defensive about racism within the system, and the faculty was becoming more involved with combating prejudice. Finally, a new ‘university dorm’ was announced, and became a great topic of discussion.

The first semester saw almost immediate activism by SCAR (Student Committee Against Racism), when two Tufts students alleged that a local realtor was practicing discriminatory policies. Jim Fiorentini and David Skinner had had their lease broken after the agency found out that Skinner was African-American, and were refused residence. Pickets and protests followed, in what was to become SCAR’s last organized protest. A few days afterward, SCAR announced their intention to direct their efforts toward education about racism and working toward curriculum changes, turning away from the recruiting and protest roles they had held in the past.

Important lecturers brought in by SCAR and other groups during the first semester include Elma Lewis, a prominent black educator and artist; LeRoi Jones, the famous writer; and Stokely Carmichael, a major civil rights activist. Carmichael’s lecture in particular had a major effect on the Tufts community- his speech, scheduled at the last minute and announced only a day before it was to be held, sparked controversy, both over the racial content of his lecture and the thousand-dollar speaker’s fee paid by SCAR.

The Weekly also contributed to the civil rights discussion, interviewing black politicians such as John O’Bryant and Julian Bond, and publishing pieces on such efforts as the ‘liberation schools’ in Medford/Somerville. The administration, meanwhile, took on accusations of racism head on, in one case having their PR officer send a letter to the Weekly deriding claims from SDS member Steve Miller.

One piece of news that did not go unnoticed was the planned construction of a university dorm. It was proposed as both coed and housing undergraduate and graduate students, the first dorm to mix students so much. Students largely greeted the announcement with enthusiasm.

The second semester saw a general decline in organized activism and, indeed, a backlash against SCAR from black students. SCAR began to be seen as an excuse for Tufts administration to avoid dealing with real institutional problems, and SCAR officially disbanded in March. The amount of lectures and other education on civil rights issues decreased correspondingly, although Hosea Williams, former aide to Dr. King, did give a lecture in April.

Activity from the Afro-American alliance and individual black students, however, increased. When the Observer published a report on the SCAR scholarships received by black students, including exact dollar amounts received by each student, there was an immediate protest against this violation of privacy. The Afro-American Alliance also began calling for a culture house, including separate housing. Despite the proposal being discarded by administration, the plan gained support from many quarters, including the CSL (Committee for Student Life) and eventually was accepted by the administration.

The faculty of the various Tufts schools also became involved in picking up where SCAR left off. The Dental School set aside five spaces for ‘disadvantaged’ students, and faculty from the undergraduate, medical and dental schools independently created a drive to give scholarships to current and incoming black students. Faculty also donated money toward the Afro-American Cultural Center.

The administration, however, did not meet or exceed student expectations as the faculty had done. An announced Urban Studies program was criticized after it was revealed that there would be little attention paid to problems suffered by urban African-Americans. The administration also decided, despite earlier indications, that the new dorm would not be coed.

To view scans from the Tufts Weekly/Observer from the 1968-69 school year, go here.


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