The Takeover

By Sandra Reeves / January / February 2005
May 3rd, 2007

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.”

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January / February 2005