The desire of some university students to emphasize recreational pursuits over academics has been a constant over the centuries. Another historical constant has been the tension between students and those they interact with off the campus. Moreover, it has usually required extraordinary events outside the university to move youths to act in a political manner. For example, with the isolated exception of antislavery organizing before the Civil War (1861–1865), it took until the twentieth century for political activism to become a rite of passage for a small portion of American students.
In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries universities such as Bologna, Oxford, and Paris took the lead in reviving higher education in Europe. At Bologna foreign students enjoyed no civil rights and often found themselves at the mercy of price-gouging landlords and merchants. In spite of their apparent powerlessness, however, Bologna students could easily migrate to other universities.
The lack of residential campus accommodations and classroom buildings gave students enormous mobility, as well as economic leverage over their schools. Bologna students, for instance, could withhold payment if faculty failed to show up for lectures. Once medieval universities began to construct housing and lecture halls, however, students became more rooted and fell under the authority of campus administrators.
Student discipline was a major issue at medieval universities. Bologna's rectors prohibited students from patronizing gambling establishments and conducting business with moneylenders. Oxford banned students from keeping bears and falcons in their campus quarters and prohibited them from consorting with prostitutes. In addition, Oxford punished students for assaulting faculty and entering townspeople's homes to commit violent acts. Since students representing a variety of nationalities attended Oxford in the 1300s, the university also enacted speech codes to prohibit anyone from making disparaging ethnic remarks.
Sanctions against student offenders could range from expulsion to being required to purchase rounds of wine for the aggrieved parties. When student offenders came from the aristocracy, offers of financial restitution from their fathers served as substitutes for expulsion and flogging.
Relations between students who were engaged in scholarly pursuits and townspeople who toiled for little reward could turn sour in medieval Europe. On Saint Scholastica's Day, February 10, 1354, Oxford students instigated a tavern brawl. This brawl turned into a riot as townspeople armed with bows and arrows battled sword-wielding students and faculty. As the second day of the riot commenced, townspeople invaded the Oxford campus, killing scores of students and faculty.
Although the lethal combat ensuing from the Saint Scholastica Day riot was disproportionate to the immediate provocation, the seeds of discord had deep roots. Isolated incidents of assaults between students and locals had occurred for years. Indeed, between the years 1297 and 1322 nearly half the murders in the community had been committed by Oxford students.
Noting that in 1200 King Philip Augustus had given the University of Paris jurisdiction over its students and faculty, the English crown–following the Saint Scholastica Day riot–went a step further. Oxford received legal jurisdiction over the townspeople. The universities of Paris and Oxford established a precedent whereby campuses were regarded by governing authorities as intellectual sanctuaries whose territory was nearly inviolate.
In light of Harvard's founding mission to train Congregational ministers, it is not surprising that 130 years passed before the school experienced a student riot. Harvard's 1766 riot, however, was decidedly apolitical. At a time when large numbers of Bostonians were criticizing Great Britain's colonial policies, Harvard students protested the quality of the campus food service.
In contrast, by the eve of the American Revolution (1775–1783), students at the College of Rhode Island (later Brown), the College of New Jersey (later Princeton), Dartmouth, Harvard, William and Mary, and Yale had become caught up in colonial politics. In 1772 Princeton students hung in effigy politicians whom they viewed as allies of the Crown. For the most part, however, as historian Steven Novak concluded, students played little role in the events leading up to the Revolution.
Following the Revolution, American colleges faced economic hard times, which were accompanied by an expansion of the number of institutions of higher education. Between 1782 and 1802 nineteen new colleges came into existence, and the resulting competition for a limited pool of students forced a lowering of academic standards. In order to remain viable, and confronted by threats from students who insisted they would take their tuition money elsewhere, Dickinson College (in Pennsylvania), the University of Pennsylvania (Penn), and Princeton awarded a bachelor's degree after two years of attendance instead of four. Dickinson students went so far in 1798 as to go on strike until a bachelor's degree was granted after just one year of classroom instruction. Dickinson administrators gave in to student demands.
Issues of student discipline and violence in early America seemed reminiscent of medieval Europe. In 1799, students at the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill), angered over the expulsion of two disruptive students, horsewhipped the president and stoned two professors. Three years later, William and Mary students, upset over college regulations forbidding duels to the death, instigated a riot in which they
broke windows on campus, tore up Bibles, and vandalized the homes of professors.
At Princeton in 1807, students occupied a university building in protest over the expulsion of three students. At that point, Princeton and Harvard administrators created a blacklist among the nation's colleges to prevent habitual troublemakers from enrolling elsewhere. While North Carolina, Dartmouth, and other colleges embraced the blacklist, Penn undermined its effectiveness by admitting that it could not afford to turn away students, regardless of their disciplinary records.
Along with mounting disciplinary problems and declining academic standards, universities were finding somewhat larger numbers of politically active students. At William and Mary in 1798, students observed Independence Day by burning Federalist President John Adams in effigy. They believed Adams was trying to provoke war with revolutionary France. Most college students in the North who took an interest in politics staged protest rallies against Thomas Jefferson and his Republican followers. Williams College student (and future poet) William Cullen Bryant penned a Federalist screed in 1808 that depicted President Jefferson as an incompetent leader as well as a sexual predator.
Although in the decades preceding the Civil War the fouryear bachelor's degree made a comeback, discipline remained problematic. In 1842 Harvard students and working-class Bostonians stoked longstanding "town-gown" tensions into a full-blown riot. The proximate cause of the 1842 riot was apolitical. Harvard students resented locals who mocked their English-inspired apparel choices. Seeing lower-class townspeople wearing cheap imitations of the coveted Oxford cap, Harvard students assaulted the offenders. Enraged, a mob of three hundred attempted to invade the Harvard campus, where they were met by fifty students armed with pistols, clubs, and knives. Faculty and police intervened but neither could quell the random beatings and property destruction that ensued off-campus for the next nine days.
Even as Harvard students and townies traded insults during the 1830s and 1840s, the antislavery movement sank its roots on a few northern campuses. At Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio, antislavery students and faculty in 1834 confronted trustees who did not want to antagonize community residents sympathetic to the South. Ordered to disband their abolitionist group, a number of Lane students and faculty migrated to Oberlin College. Established in 1834 and located in the northern region of Ohio that had been settled by New Englanders, Oberlin College became a hotbed of antislavery activism.
In 1835 Oberlin College announced its intention to admit women and African Americans, creating the only gender and racially integrated campus in the United States. (Five percent of Oberlin's student body in the years before the Civil War was black.) Students and faculty established the Oberlin Anti-Slavery Society and became members of the abolitionist Liberty Party and, ultimately, of the Republican Party. The spirit of Oberlin's antislavery zeal spread to the University of Michigan, as well as to Dartmouth and Williams.
With the passage of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act, requiring citizens not to interfere with the capture of runaway slaves, Oberlin became a literal battlefield. In the summer of 1858, on three separate occasions southern slave hunters were warned away by Oberlin students, faculty, and community residents. In the fall of 1858, after slave hunters captured a fugitive slave near Oberlin, abolitionists stormed the building where he was being held and rescued him. The federal government subsequently indicted thirty-seven members of the Oberlin community under the Fugitive Slave Act. Their trials captured national news media attention–the first time student and faculty political activists at an American college had ever done anything to merit such coverage.
While Americans debated the morality of slavery, western European reformers–including some students and professors–contested the political and economic future of their homelands. In 1848 the German manufacturing and university town of Cologne became the epicenter of social discontent. Some professors-turned-radical-journalists–notably Karl Marx–looked for a socialist workers' revolution. Skilled craftsmen, fearful that industrialization was eroding their economic standing, looked backward toward an era without machinery. Still others called for a unified German nation built around free trade or protectionism, capitalism or socialism, and democracy or a constitutional monarchy. Ultimately the kingdom of Prussia ended the debate with grapeshot. (By 1871 a unified Germany became an army with a nation built around it.)
Between 1869 and 1900 the number of students enrolled in American universities increased from 52,000 to 237,000. That figure rose to 1.1 million by 1929. In 1900, 4 percent of the college-age cohort (18 to 22) was enrolled as students, compared to 12.5 percent thirty years later. The universities of Chicago, Johns Hopkins, and Stanford had come into existence even as land-grant colleges such as Ohio State– which were originally geared more toward instruction in agricultural and engineering than toward instruction in the liberal arts–expanded their student bodies.
At the same time, more women entered higher education. In 1870 women had represented one fifth of those enrolled in college. By 1900, one-third of college students were female. In 1900 women earned 60 percent of the nation's HIGH SCHOOL diplomas but accounted for just 19 percent of students granted college degrees. Overall, the greater likelihood that female students would drop out–whether to find employment or to get married–helped depress the pool of college graduates.
Setting aside the somewhat greater proportion of women enrolled in higher education by 1900, the profile of the typical American college student had changed little since the Revolution. Most students came from middle- and upper- middle-class white Anglo-Saxon Protestant families. What had changed, however, was the desire among larger numbers of students to grapple with social issues. Where mere handfuls of students had protested against slavery in the 1850s, in 1911 over ten thousand volunteered to work in settlement houses in an effort to improve education and health care among the urban poor. Such student volunteers included the future socialist activist Norman Thomas.
In 1905, according to historian Philip Altbach (1974), the Intercollegiate Socialist Society (ISS) became the first nationally organized vehicle for student activism. With the encouragement of novelists Upton Sinclair and Jack London, the ISS established chapters at Chicago, Columbia, Michigan, the University of California-Berkeley, Wisconsin, and Yale. In 1904 at Berkeley, a year before the founding of its ISS chapter, some students had violently protested the presence of the Reserve Officers' Training Corps program (ROTC) on campus. Altbach identifies this incident as Berkeley's first student riot.
By 1912 Harvard claimed one of the largest campus ISS chapters, with fifty members. In 1917, on the eve of America's entry into World War I, the ISS nationally had nine hundred undergraduate members. The ISS, like its close relative the Young Peoples' Socialist League (YPSL), which had been created in 1907 and had the backing of the Socialist Party, opposed U.S. involvement in World War I. Both the ISS and YPSL, which had few college-student members, experienced schisms over the 1917 Russian Revolution. ISS leaders were suspicious of communist revolutionaries and sought to salvage the fortunes of socialism. Toward those ends they created the League for Industrial Democracy (LID). Disaffected radicals in 1922 created the Young Communist League (YCL).
Both the YCL and LID, along with the crippled YPSL, competed for student followers at Chicago, the City College of New York, Hunter (in New York), Temple (in Philadelphia), and Wisconsin. Student activists in the 1920s managed to organize the disruption of ROTC drills at forty universities. The objective of such protests was to abolish compulsory ROTC for male students. How much of this antiwar activism was motivated by the desire to create a peaceful new world order and how much was the expression of deeply rooted American isolationism–as well as a desire among young men to avoid physical exercise–is, as Altbach notes, unclear.
The decade of the 1920s was not an era of student activism. For every Columbia student such as Whittaker Chambers who joined the Communist Party–and later achieved fame before the House Committee on Un-American Activities–tens of thousands of students remained apolitical. However, as historian Paula Fass observed, male and female students in the 1920s were more likely to embrace new hair and clothing styles, and openly consume alcohol and smoke cigarettes, than had previous generations.
Although female students retained a strong dose of traditionalism, as evidenced by a 1923 poll of Vassar women which revealed that 90 percent preferred marriage over a professional career, they were far more likely to endorse
BIRTH CONTROL than the general population. It was in reaction to a perceived loosening of morals among students in the 1920s that the dean of women at Ohio State lamented that youths selfishly valued their individual rights over their obligations to society.
If college administrators could not change how students balanced individual freedom and societal duty, they could attempt to regulate moral behavior on campus through the strict enforcement of in loco parentis. University leaders, regarding themselves as acting in the absence of parents, segregated the sexes in campus dormitories after nightfall and banned alcohol. While in loco parentis worked well at small, somewhat isolated residential colleges, administrators discovered that rapidly expanding urban campuses and large commuter institutions such as City College were more challenging.
The GREAT DEPRESSION (1929–1941) proved to be the best of times and the worst of times for American education and college students. As a result of a high national unemployment rate (e.g., 25 percent in 1932), many youths were forced out of the job market and back into the classroom. By 1936 the greatest proportion of TEENAGERS in American history, 65 percent, were attending HIGH SCHOOL. The proportion of Americans with college degrees went from 3.9 percent in 1930 to 4.6 percent in 1940 while enrollment increased from 1.2 million to 1.5 million. At the same time the share of bachelor's degrees awarded to women topped 40 percent.
On the other hand, the unemployment rate among college graduates in the early years of the Depression was at least two times higher than the national average; providing incentive to remain sheltered on the campus if possible. Thanks to creation of the National Youth Administration (NYA) in 1935, the federal government for the first time subsidized part-time jobs for 600,000 students who might have otherwise left college without their degrees. Another1.5 million high school students and 2.6 million unemployed youths who were no longer in the education system also received NYA assistance.
Although the 1930s became known as the Red Decade on the college campus and in society at large, radicalism was not the dominant political strain at most universities. A 1932 survey of 56,000 university students revealed that less than a third had voted for the victorious Democratic presidential candidate, Franklin Roosevelt. (Eighteen percent did, however, vote for the Socialist Party nominee, Norman Thomas.) Upon the occasion of Harvard's three hundredth anniversary in 1936, students turned their backs on Roosevelt when he began to speak.
In 1932 the LID opted to step up its campus organizing, establishing a youth affiliate which it called the Student League for Industrial Democracy (SLID). Within a year SLID claimed fifty campus chapters, moving beyond the activist footholds of City College, Harvard, and Swarthmore to include Wayne State University in Detroit. Both Victor and Walter Reuther–the future organizers of the United Automobile Workers union–belonged to the Wayne State chapter. At Swarthmore, SLID activist Molly Yard helped organize a series of protests that culminated in the banning of sororities that practiced racial and religious discrimination. Decades later, Yard served as president of the National Organization for Women.
Hoping to raise its campus profile, the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) created the National Student League (NSL) in 1931. In 1935, as the Soviet Union became more concerned with the military threat posed by Nazi Germany, Communists were ordered to form a Popular Front with socialists and "progressive" Democrats. Toward that end, the NSL, the NCL, and SLID forged the American Student Union (ASU), whose leaders included Molly Yard and Joseph Lash–later an admiring biographer of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. The CPUSA also kept an active interest in youth organizing off campus through the American Youth Congress (AYC). YPSL, while willing to cooperate with the ASU, focused the bulk of its efforts on organizing young workers rather than college students.
While comprehensive data on the demographics of the 1930s student movement is not available, Altbach and other historians (e.g., Brax and Cohen) have been able to reconstruct a general profile of collegiate activists. Most student activists came from middle- and upper-middle-class households. The exceptions to this were second-generation Jewish-Americans, who tended to cluster at City College, which was free and which did not have discriminatory religious admissions quotas in place, as the Ivy League schools and some major state universities did.
Most student activists of the 1930s pursued study in the social sciences and the humanities, not in business, the sciences, and technical fields. It may be that students who sought employment in the public sector were more liberally inclined than those hoping to land jobs in the private sector. Thus a 1934 poll of 700 students at Kansas State teachers College (in Manhattan) showed that 65 percent regarded themselves as antibusiness New Dealers. Though located in the heartland of American conservatism, students intending to become public school teachers perhaps had a vested interest in the expansion of government, as well as a suspicion of Republican politicians who often appeared to seek budget cuts in education first.
Public sentiment, either in spite or because of increasing Nazi and Japanese military aggression, remained markedly isolationist. A 1937 Gallup Public Opinion Poll reported that 70 percent of Americans thought that becoming involved in World War I had been a mistake. Campus attitudes were, if anything, even more intensely hostile toward war as an instrument of U.S. foreign policy. Cornell activists in 1933 distributed anti-ROTC pins that bore the inscription, "Duck the Goose Step," equating student cadets with Nazis.
After the Oxford University Student Union in 1933 adopted a pledge not to defend Britain in the event of war, both SLID and the NSL encouraged students to adopt an equivalent American oath. In 1934 SLID and the NSL organized a national peace strike in support of the Oxford Pledge. Campus activists claimed that twenty-five thousand students–of whom fifteen thousand resided in New York City–had participated in the strike.
In 1935 the ASU and the AYC, along with the pacifist National Council of Methodist Youth, mounted a second, and purportedly larger, peace strike. Organizers claimed that anywhere from 150,000 to 500,000 students supported the Oxford Pledge. Berkeley, Chicago, City College, Columbia, Smith, Stanford, and the University of Virginia witnessed student rallies of varying size and militancy. At Penn, Vassar, and the universities of Idaho, North Dakota, and Oklahoma, sympathetic administrators worked with the ASU to sponsor antiwar events.
By 1936 the ASU, responding to the competing agendas of its socialist, communist, and religious pacifist constituencies, ended up reaffirming the Oxford Pledge and simultaneously championing U.S. military intervention in Europe if Germany attacked the Soviet Union. That meant the ASU would not have supported war in the event that Germany declared war on the United States. This position was untenable and by 1938 the ASU repudiated the Oxford Pledge and called upon students to defend the Soviet Union and the western democracies from fascism. The pacifist and SLID factions were irate. Then after the 1939 Stalin-Hitler Pact, which paved the way for the invasion of Poland and the out-break of World War II in Europe, New Deal liberals and communists clashed within the ASU. As communists defended the Stalin-Hitler Pact and called upon Americans to stay out of the war, the ASU fell apart.
After Japan bombed the American Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, only 49,000 draftees out of 10 million men registered for the draft claimed conscientious objector status. American students, regardless of class, ethnic, racial, and regional origins, marched off to war. With the exception of a clash between Hispanic teenagers and sailors in Los Angeles–the ZOOT SUIT RIOT of 1943– American youths focused on the task at hand.
As the United States entered the post–World War II era, its universities grew in number, ultimately topping out at 3,535. The number of students enrolled in college reached 10 million by 1970, with the proportion of women increasing until they became a majority in 1979. In spite of the rapid growth of higher education in the 1960s, however, the class profile of students remained little changed from the 1930s. Just 17 percent of all college students in the 1960s came from working- and lower-middle-class backgrounds. Given such demographics, and the generous provision of student deferments from Selective Service, 80 percent of the men who went to fight in the Vietnam War (1965–1973) were working class. Antiwar protest on the campus in the 1960s inevitably provoked resentment in many blue-collar communities.
Four key issues confronted college students after the relative calm of the 1940s and 1950s, helping to spark the largest campus protests in American history. First there was the insistence of university administrators on maintaining in locoparentis and, in deference to conservative state legislatures, upholding bans on political activities on the campus. (This ban sparked the 1964 Berkeley Free Speech Movement, which historians have credited for inspiring student activism at other campuses.)
Second, the civil rights movement in the 1950s South drew northern students into the struggle for racial justice by the early 1960s. White activists played a supporting role in the civil rights movement. In 1964 students at Berkeley, for example, staged sit-ins at local business branches whose main offices did not challenge segregation in the South; they also went to Mississippi to register blacks to vote.
Third and fourth, the specter of military service in Vietnam after graduation–or after flunking out–fed the ranks of campus peace protestors, as well as contributed to youthful alienation from a Democratic Party committed to the policy of communist containment. For youths who were not prepared to support a radical critique of U.S. foreign policy, Minnesota senator Eugene McCarthy's 1968 campaign to capture the Democratic presidential nomination was a veritable children's crusade.
The year 1962 witnessed the birth of a campus-based New Left and New Right. SLID officially became the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) at its Port Huron, Michigan, convention. SDS carried on much of the ASU's opposition to an interventionist U.S. foreign policy as well as its hostility to corporations and ROTC. This was perhaps not surprising given that at least a third of the approximately 100,000 students who joined SDS or participated in other leftist organizations in the 1960s were "red diaper babies," the children of 1930s socialist and communist activists.
SDS, which grew out of elite institutions such as Chicago, Harvard, Michigan, Oberlin, and Swarthmore, was an organization mainly of middle and upper-middle-class youths. Their parents were most frequently lawyers, doctors, and academics. In terms of religion, 60 percent of SDSers hailed from secular Jewish households, 35 percent from white Protestant families, and 5 percent from Catholic homes. Although the proportion of Jewish students in SDS varied according to the academic quality of the institutions they attended–a majority at Chicago, a minority at Kent State University in Ohio–residential origins held constant. Many leftist student activists who attended universities such as Michigan and Wisconsin came from out of state. A sizeable proportion of student activists in general hailed from metropolitan areas. Nearly all were liberal arts and social science majors.
As universities abandoned in loco parentis and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which had been established in 1960 by black and white southern students, embraced racial separatism, activists and growing numbers of students turned their attention to the escalating Vietnam War. Antiwar protest, even at its height in the late 1960s, seldom mobilized more than a third of any particular student body–and those high proportions were true only at the Berkeleys, Columbias, and Harvards. The greatest student uprising only took place in response to the slaying of four Kent State students by the Ohio National Guard on May 4, 1970, when 4 million students across the country went on strike.
Once it became clear that the April 1970 U.S. incursion into Cambodia–which had triggered antiwar protests at Kent State and had led to the Ohio National Guard occupying the campus–was not going to lead to escalation of the Indochina war, student protest evaporated. President Richard Nixon in 1969 had already instituted the draft lottery, which, by eliminating college deferments and assigning young males a draft number, significantly reduced student anxiety. With reduced troop levels in Vietnam, most college students knew that they were not going to be drafted if they had a high enough lottery number. Student support for antiwar protest melted away, leaving such organizations as SDS, which in 1969 had split into a Maoist faction (the Progressive Labor Party) and a terrorist sect (the Weather Underground), adrift.
It is often overlooked that the 1960s witnessed the first large conservative student movement on American college campuses. Meeting in 1962 at the Sharon, Connecticut, estate of National Review editor William F. Buckley Jr., the Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) was born. YAF's membership included anticommunists who wanted a more muscular response to the Soviet Union and China than the one provided by President John F. Kennedy, as well as religious conservatives and free-market libertarians.
Although YAF grew to over 60,000 members, like SDS it tore itself apart in 1969 as libertarians demanded an end to the draft, condemned the Vietnam War, and argued for the legalization of narcotics and abortion. Libertarians, who often attended elite universities and hailed from professional families, clashed with religious conservatives, many of whom were lower-middle-class Catholic students at less prestigious state universities.
In the long haul, the one advantage YAF had over SDS was its greater commitment to entering the institutional political process–ideological schisms and all. This meant, as sociologist Rebecca Klatch and historian Gregory Schneider have argued, that by the 1980s YAF's alumni played a growing role in the national Republican Party–whether serving in local, state, or federal elective office or working as advisors in the administration of President Ronald Reagan. In contrast, many SDSers remained on the college campus, moving from graduate liberal arts programs into (if they were lucky) tenure-track faculty positions.
The disruptions being played out on some of America's campuses in the 1960s had their counterparts in the United Kingdom, West Germany, and France. Western European students–whose overall numbers were less than their American counterparts given the smaller and more academically selective university systems in which they were enrolled– also protested the Vietnam war and the administrative regulation of their sexual conduct. Most famously in May 1968, at the newly constructed Nanterre campus of the University of Paris–which was located in an impoverished, segregated Arab neighborhood–thousands of students took to the streets.
Following the lead of Nanterre sociology major Daniel Cohn-Bendit–himself an admirer of the German Socialist Students' League (known by its German initials, SDS)– students threw cobblestones at police as they protested the American war in Vietnam and university restrictions on their sexual behavior. This coincided, but was not coordinated, with a strike by workers protesting the managerial reorganization of their economically uncompetitive industries. In this turbulent milieu, revolution appeared inevitable. French leader Charles DeGaulle, however, persuaded workers and students to return to their jobs and desks with the promise of reform.
The collapse of large-scale student protest after 1970 coincided with declining public confidence in higher education. In 1966, 61 percent of the public expressed approval of higher education, as compared to 25 percent by 1994. Beyond a public backlash against higher education, Philip Altbach has argued that one of the most important legacies the protest movements of the 1960s gave to the American university was the "politicization of the campus" (1997, p. 32).
Most campus activism after the Vietnam era centered around U.S. foreign policy and identity politics, as organizations based upon gender, sexual preference, and race competed for influence over the curriculum. Outward appearances to the contrary, however, the people who drove the debates over such issues as affirmative action and military disarmament were not students but faculty members who had experienced the 1960s as graduate students and junior instructors.
By the 1980s newly created campus organizations in opposition to America's foreign policy often centered upon a single nation–for instance, the Committee In Solidarity with the People of El Salvador and the Students for a Free South Africa. There were, however, efforts to create a multi-issue and transnational clearinghouse for the campus left through the Progressive Student Network.
Campus activism in the 1980s was nonviolent and mainly low-key, involving no more than several thousand students on a consistent basis. Youths who were opposed to U.S. support for the white apartheid (segregationist) regime in South Africa gained some national media attention in 1987 by erecting shanties on their campuses. (The shanties were to symbolize the conditions black South Africans endured as a result of apartheid.) College Republican chapters sometimes responded by constructing Berlin Walls around the shanties and posting "communist" border guards.
In 1997 the United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) came into existence. Liza Featherstone, a journalist and supporter of the USAS, reported in 2002 that a number of the student activists at Berkeley, Columbia, Duke, and Wisconsin had parents who belonged to SDS and grandparents who had joined the ASU and NCL in the 1930s.
While ostensibly opposed to the labor conditions of people working in U.S.- and multinational-owned garment factories overseas, the USAS joined other groups to disrupt meetings of the World Trade Organization. Protest moved off the campus and became more violently confrontational. After the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, which killed 3,000 people, campus activists linked their opposition to GLOBALIZATION and capitalism to President George W. Bush's Afghanistan phase of the War on Terrorism.
While antiwar organizations rallied tens of thousands of people in Washington, D.C., few campuses outside Berkeley and Michigan experienced demonstrations involving more than two hundred students. Although protests in spring 2003 against the war in Iraq attracted larger numbers of participants, demonstrators were largely faculty and community residents who had marched against the war in Vietnam thirty years earlier. Few American students oppose the war on terror, unlike their western European counterparts. Explanations as to why this is so include: Americans were attacked on their own soil; the absence of a draft to move apathetic students to antiwar action; and finally, Jewish students and faculty, who were disproportionately represented within the ranks of the Vietnam protestors, were divided over what many perceived to be the anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli stances of antiwar organizations. Historical lessons from earlier student movements are of some analytical value for understanding political dynamics on the campus of the early twenty-first century, but the inescapable reality is that American youths are venturing into an uncertain future.
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KENNETH J. HEINEMAN