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A Change in Tone: The 1967 Dow Chemical Sit-in

For the next in my series of posts relating to student protests at IU I’d like to discuss one of the seminal moments in the fight over student rights and power on campus.

On October 30, 1967 recruiters from the Dow Chemical Company came to Bloomington to conduct interviews with IU students. Dow was frequently a target of protests due to its production of napalm for use by the US military in Vietnam. Less than two weeks prior a similar recruiting visit to the University of Wisconsin had led to violent clashes between protesting students and police, and IU security officials were on edge.

On the day of the visit about 35 students showed up at the IU Business School where interviews were being conducted and asked to speak with Dow representatives.  When this was refused the students forced their way into the lobby area outside of the interview rooms and staged a sit-in. Bloomington police were called, and when they arrived all the students were arrested, some being beaten severely when they refused to leave.

Reaction to the incident varied: the Board of Trustees and Faculty Council applauded the swift action taken by the administration, but the Student Senate, numerous individual faculty members and the student body at large widely condemned it.  The main issues of contention were the fact that the students faced punishment from both the university and civil authorities and the use of town police on campus.  IU President Elvis Stahr and Dean of Students Robert Shaffer placed students involved with the incident on disciplinary probation, with the threat of expulsion for any further disturbances.  Additionally, notice was given that any students violating university rules on demonstrations in the future would face immediate suspension.  Student groups were outraged at the summary judgment, as the punishments had been meted out without due process.  Twelve protesters were found guilty of disorderly conduct in local court, while one protester was convicted of assault and battery against a police officer.   The incident would prove emblematic of Stahr’s tumultuous time in office, and served as a catalyst for much debate over students’ rights in the years following.

Sadly, I have been unable to find any original negatives of the incident at the archives (much of the local media was focused on Secretary of State Dean Rusk’s visit the following day- more on that later).  Newspaper clippings in the reference collection remain one of the best resources for photographs of the event.  The records of the IU Student Senate, as well as those of the student-run Eggshell press, help provide a good idea of what students were thinking at the time.

Next up, we will examine the nearly concurrent visit by Secretary Rusk and the events that surrounded it.

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