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.

Students force their way past university officials.

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.

A student publication reflects prevailing sentiments about the incident.

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.

A Student Senate resolution condemning Dean Shaffer's actions against protesting students.

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. 

Cuban Blockade Protest at IU

I’m back!  Sorry for the gap in blogging, but I’ve been working behind the scenes to get

Pro- and Anti- blockade marchers

some actual pages up in the new site.  They won’t be public for quite some time, but I will be presenting snippets of the exhibit pages as I create them. Here’s the first one:

On October 24, 1962, members of the Ad Hoc Committee to Oppose U.S. Aggression in Cuba staged a protest of President Kennedy’s naval blockade of Cuba.  Denouncing the blockade as a belligerent and imperialistic action, approximately 30 members of the recently assembled student group marched through the IUB campus towards Bloomington’s courthouse.  At the same time a pro-blockade rally was held by members of the conservative group Young Americans for Freedom, although that group carefully chose to assemble far away from the other demonstration.  Thousands of unaffiliated students soon assembled to follow and heckle the small anti-blockade group, although contemporary reports vary widely as to the exact number present.  As the protesters moved on to Kirkwood Avenue they were assaulted by a non-student who worked at a local pizza parlor.  Further scuffles soon broke out, and the group retreated back to the main library building (now Franklin Hall) on campus.  Within a few hours both the crowd and protesters dispersed.

Conservative Pro-blockade rallyWhile this incident was short-lived, it served as a harbinger for future events at IU.Shortly thereafter the Young Socialist Alliance (YSA), of which many of the protestors were members, came under fire from Monroe Country prosecuting attorney Thomas Hoadley.  Hoadley alleged that the activities of the student organization were subversive, and thus illegal.  The university stood behind the group, recognizing their right to assemble.  After four years of legal wrangling all charges were dismissed, but the battle lines had been drawn.  The YSA students were emblematic of a new type of student, which would increasingly have a voice in campus activities as the decade advanced.

Materials for this exhibit have been pulled from the IU  Archives reference files, student government records, and IU News Service photo collections.  Want to learn more?  Contact the archives!

Digging deeper into the events of the past

Work on the student protest exhibit continues, although at a slower pace than I had originally anticipated. What I had initially envisioned as a fairly cut-and-dry project focusing on clearly defined events threatens to expand exponentially. This is of course only natural when examining complex historical events, with different perspectives, involved groups, etc. Too often we suffer from the collective delusion that historical events can be easily boiled down into a concise narrative, when the reality is always more complex. This is the beauty and the challenge of archival records. While they allow us unprecedented access into the background of the past it is all too easy to get lost in the minutia.

This project has me working in many ways in the dual role of an archivist and a historian. My goal is to present a balanced and diverse exhibit for the public, but my own choices will weigh heavily on the tone of the final product. Much like a historian who publishes their research after filtering events through their own lens, I have the ability to shape perception of events. Ideally, such an exhibit should stimulate interest and inspire people to do research of their own, but for many people this may be the only time they ever examine the events I am presenting. With this in mind I continue to pull in materials from many sources, to paint as complete a picture as I can.

I have already pulled a variety of newspaper clippings, both textual and photographic, as well as student government records. While original photos will always be preferable, in many cases the originals do not survive, or exist only in the hands of the original photographer. I have pulled a number of photographic negatives from the archives’ collections for use, but there were less related to some events than I would have hoped. Some events, such as the 1968 Little 500 sit-in, have virtually no photographic evidence surviving, be it newspaper or pictures. Whether this is the result of concerted squelching of coverage at the time (not unheard of), or simply the peccadillos of time is impossible to say. In any case, we are left with a sole photograph in the 1969 Arbutus yearbook to illustrate the story. This is an extreme example, but it can be a frustrating challenge for someone trying to bring visual interest to an exhibit.

Mary Ann Wynkoop’s 2002 book Dissent in the Heartland: The Sixties at Indiana University has been invaluable to me, as it has allowed me to stitch events together in my head far more efficiently than if I were left to my own devices. I would highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in 1960’s student protest movements in the Midwest.

By next week I hope to have some items scanned to spice up these posts of mine a bit more.
Until then.

The start of a new internship

Hello everyone, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Kris Stenson, and I’m one of the newest interns here at the IU Archives. I’ve recently completed the last of my classes for my MLS here at IU, so this is my sole remaining requirement before I receive my degree. In next few months I will be posting updates on work I’m doing for the archives, as well as my own opinions and musings related to those projects. Hopefully this proves as informative to you as it will be to me.

I’ve just made it to the end of week two, and am still very much feeling out my role here. Later in the summer I will be working on processing a collection or two, as well as perhaps some records management work with departments here on campus. Right now my immediate task involves new digital exhibit software the archives is trying out: Omeka (http://omeka.org/). It’s an open-access program which is being worked on as a way to present certain archival materials to the public in an interesting and visually stimulating way. While most of the design work has been done by a colleague from digital libraries, I will be working to select materials for display, upload them into the software, add contextual metadata, and provide text to explain and tie together the objects.

April 1969

In conjunction with Indiana University’s upcoming fall Themester, “Making War, Making Peace,” I have been tasked with creating an exibit of materials related to student protests here at IU, particularly during the 1960’s. Thus far I’ve been digging through press clippings, leaflets and such, and next will look at photographs, administrative papers and student government materials. I’ve so far identified several different events which will have pages devoted to them: a 1962 Anti-Cuban blocade protest and counter-rally, the 1967 Dow Chemical sit-in, the 1968 Little 500 sit-in to protest racial inequality, the May 1969 student fee class boycott, the related Ballantine Hall lock-in and the October 1969 Vietnam War Moratorium Day protests. I’ve only begun to scratch the surface, but there is much more to be found.

I plan to present more details of each of these events in this blog as the summer progresses, so that we all might understand a little more about a controversial and influential time here at IU.

Until next time.