Twenty-five years ago, on April 24, 1975, a group of students known as the Third World Coalition occupied University Hall for thirty-eight and one-half hours to call attention to what it perceived as a slipping of the University’s commitment to minority concerns. The roots of the takeover lay in the “black walkout” of 1968, when the administration of President Ray Heffner agreed to, among other things, increase the number of African Americans admitted to Brown, the amount of financial aid given to those students, and the number of African-American faculty and staff. The 1975 occupation ended peacefully with the signing of an accord by the University to do more for minority students. Here is an excerpt from the report about the takeover that appeared in the May/June 1975 BAM:
Sometimes, you really do have to be there. There is no true perspective in a news report. Information in an electronic age is partial, and like poetry, it must be personally amplified and interpreted – pushed through some mental synapse in which each individual fills gaps with his own intuition and finds meaning. When the events are highly charged and complex, when the people involved are diverse and emotional, the interpreting process becomes disconcerting in its variation. Meaning suffers from the very abundance of images.
Here are some vignettes from the occupation of University Hall on April 24 by a group of forty black, Latin, and Asian-American students.
Churchill House, the official home of black studies and activities at Brown, is filled at 6 A.M. by students representing the hastily formed Third World Coalition. A curious University security guard drops by to ask what they are doing. “We’re having a meeting,” he is told. “Okay. You kids don’t know nothing, I don’t know nothing.” The meeting is to plot the first building seizure in Brown’s 211-year history. It is solemn and serious and ends in a prayer: “Lord, we ask your blessing, and we ask that you keep us cool.”
...President Horning, who has been the subject of two front-page stories in the Providence Journal quoting senior faculty critical of his leadership and indicating that a significant portion of the faculty considered his administration ineffectual before the student unrest, gave this perspective of the events of spring at a reflective news conference the morning after the black accords were announced: “A generation has grown up believing that anything was possible if you set your mind to it. That generation now finds that it isn’t true. The cost of education is rising so rapidly that many don’t see how they and their families can afford it. At the same time, they see faculty and programs being cut back. They are worried, and they are frustrated, and what they see in the outside world – unemployment, depression, and so forth – does not relieve them.”