Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Monday, December 10, 2018

Forum honors past activism

The 1960s and '70s were "an electric time" at AU, School of Communication professor W. Joseph Campbell said at the "I Remember AU When ... The Age of Protest" forum Tuesday night in the McDowell Formal Lounge.

The forum, sponsored by the Residence Hall Association, the Kennedy Political Union, Campbell, SOC professor John Doolittle and the AU Archives, discussed the protests that erupted at AU during the '60s and '70s. According to Eric Ratner, resident director of Hughes and McDowell Halls, the event had been in the works since last semester.

"In the '60s, lots of people knew where AU was, what AU was and that it was a hotbed of activism," Interim President Neil Kerwin said in a panel discussion with School of Public Affairs Adviser Carl Cook and Media Consultant Joy Thomas Moore.

KPU Director Taylor Robinson moderated the panel.

"By learning about the past we will be able to discern whether or not we have stumbled into another age of protest," Robinson said.

The night began with music from '60s and '70s icons like The Grateful Dead and Buffalo Springfield and featured a narrated slideshow titled "AU: A Theater of Protest," presented by University Archivist Susan McElrath. The slideshow highlighted parts of AU's activist history, including the American University Students for a Democratic Society, the Moratorium Rallies in October and November of 1967 and the protest that stopped traffic on Ward Circle after the Kent State University shootings in 1970. AU housed 4,000 protesters during the Moratorium rallies, according to McElrath.

"The place was awash with human beings," Kerwin said of the influx of protesters. "It looked more like Woodstock than a college campus."

The slideshow also showed pictures from the Students for a Democratic Society occupation of the president's office in 1967. The students were eventually removed by AU Greeks and athletes, according to McElrath.

Kerwin, Cook and Moore discussed what made AU a center for protest in the '60s and '70s.

"This has never been a campus that has been intolerant of a wide variety of views," Kerwin said.

Cook agreed, adding that "students in general felt empowered to be different."

Gavin Skal, a sophomore in the School of Public Affairs, asked the panelists how they felt protests today compared to the '60s and '70s. Cook said technology has desensitized people to the world around them.

"I don't see the same kind of global interest," Moore said.

The panelists encouraged students frustrated with the way the world is run today to vote at every opportunity possible.

However, Andrew Dobbyn, a freshman in SPA, advocated for the use of protest, saying "if people were willing to put their bodies on the line, this war [in Iraq] would end immediately"


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