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Finding New Battles to Fight

After '60s, activists take on gender, race relations

By Jonelle M. Lonergan, Crimson Staff Writer

The troops were moving out of Vietnam, and women were moving into the River Houses. Some students demanded that Harvard divest from the Gulf Oil Corporation, while others just wanted the equal athletic facilities guaranteed by the recently passed Title IX.

THE TIMES

The issues and events that affected the Class of 1974 ran the gamut. Political issues like the Vietnam War and the draft were at the forefront, but Harvard students were also tackling the problems of diversity on campus and a rapidly changing relationship between Harvard and Radcliffe.

"The life at the College, it was in transition," says Cynthia A. Piltch '74. "And the world was in transition, too."

Cooling Activism

In the years following the 1969 takeover of University Hall, students maintained the political energy on campus with frequent demonstrations and rallies.

"It was a hotbed of political activism. Incredible demonstrations--there was a lot of political unrest," Piltch says.

But by Piltch's senior year, the "hotbed" had cooled. The end of the Vietnam War and disillusionment with the Nixon administration made for an apathetic student body more concerned with rising energy costs than social injustices.

"Things were pretty dead by then politically," says Esther V. John '74-'76.

Two major left-wing radical groups on campus--Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the New American Movement (NAM)--tried hard to keep things active.

One of NAM's more successful demonstrations was organized when Harvard's Young Republican Club invited Vice President Gerald Ford to receive their Man of the Year award. On March 10, 1974, more than 400 protestors surrounded the Harvard Club of Boston where Ford was speaking and chanted "Impeach Nixon, dump Ford."

Despite the spirited protest, though, the spring of 1974 was marked by a general lack of interest in NAM and SDS's efforts.

Some chalk up the lack of steam to the variety of ideologies among radical groups.

"It's too bad we didn't coalesce together better," says John, who was a member of SDS. "We who were very radical thought that people who weren't as radical were part of the problem."

Others say that as the issues evolved toward solutions, the fires of protests died down.

"Some of the major mobilizing issues were in the process of being resolved," says Herman B. "Dutch" Leonard '74, now Baker professor of public management at the Kennedy School of Government.

Leonard identifies the military draft as an issue that drove protestors earlier in the decade, but by his senior year, he said, "there wasn't any kind of defining issue that could galvanize in the same way."

Fighting to Protest

But while student apathy seemed to be the rule, there were still members of the class who continued to fight for change.

"There was a lot of idealism that we would be different and we were going to change the world, that we had an obligation to change the world," Piltch says.

Students protested on issues ranging from Watergate to divestment, using a tactics that included leafleting, rallies, sit-ins and taking over University buildings.

In 1972, black students from the Afro and the Pan-African Liberation Committee, two activist groups, took over Mass. Hall and demanded that the University divest from the Gulf Oil Corporation in protest of the company's practices in Angola. John, who was one of the protestors inside the building, says the takeover resulted from students' unsuccessful meetings with stockholders to discuss concerns.

"I think there were about 40 of us in the building," she remembers. "We broke a window to get in."

After the first few days, protestors asked more students to join in surrounding the building, fearing police action. Hundreds of students formed picket lines around the building in response.

"At a certain point it became a real threat. Everybody knew that if the police went in, there would be a whole lot of heads broken," John says. "The guard of students continued through the day and night maybe for about a week."

The students left the building voluntarily after the weeklong protest, although the University did not respond to their demands for divestment.

Other protests did not end so peacefully. Just two days before the 1972 takeover, anti-war demonstrators marched to the Center for International Affairs building on Divinity Avenue in Cambridge. The protestors ransacked the building, breaking windows and causing over $20,000 in damages. A squad of 50 riot police ended the protest by using tear gas to clear the Square of protestors.

While these protests were still making headlines, they were occurring with less frequency and losing the support of students. And according to conventional wisdom, campus activism had become a thing of the past.

"Time [magazine] came out with an issue in 1973 that the student movement was dead, and we had just taken over a building!" John says.

Dividing Lines

While the issues that had galvanized the previous decade were dying down, an issue that would galvanize the coming decades was arising--race relations.

At Harvard, affirmative action was first coming into play, and the process of instituting it at the school was a rocky one.

When the federal government's Department of Health, Education and Welfare set regulations for the fair hiring of women and minorities, it took Harvard three years and four separate attempts before a plan was finally approved in fall of 1973.

John says activists were angry at the treatment of black faculty members working under the auspices of the affirmativeaction plan.

"The way it was designed, they were supposed tomove up in the ranks...but they were not beingmoved up into the higher paid positions," shesays.

While the administration dealt with affirmativeaction, race relations among the student body wereanother occasional source of tension. Inextracurriculars and social situations, studentstended to segregate themselves along color lines.

"In most of the [dining halls] students ofcolor sat together. There was a fair amount ofhostility and distrust. It was challenging to havecross-racial friendships," Piltch says

Diversity was not yet a watchword, thoughstudents pushed for the admittance of moreminorities.

"My class was the class that had the mostAfrican-Americans accepted. I think there were 43of us," John says. But despite the small numbers,she says she found "solidarity" and feltcomfortable in student groups like the Black Unionof Students, the predecessor to today's BlackStudents Association.

John and other students say while theself-segregation existed, it rarely caused seriousproblems among a student body concerned withchanging politics.

"The politics of race and gender [while I wasthere] are more visible now," says Michelle Green'74.

Welcoming to Women?

As political activism slowly died down,quality-of-life issues began to take center stagefor Harvard and Radcliffe students.

Women were balancing the advantages of aHarvard education with the second-rate treatmentthey felt they were given as "'Cliffies."

"There were very few choices where you couldget a co-education and still have a sense ofidentity with a group of women," Piltch says."Places like Williams and Amherst weren't co-ed.There were limited choices and Radcliffe was anespecially interesting place."

Radcliffe was made a little moreinteresting--and a little more nebulous--with the"non-merger merger," an agreement between thecolleges approved by the Board of Overseers andthe Radcliffe Board of Trustees in 1971. Under theagreement, Harvard absorbed responsibility for allof Radcliffe's finances. Radcliffe, however,maintained its governing board, presidency, andtitle to its land in Cambridge.

Immediate changes included co-ed Houses andfirst-year women living in the Yard dorms.

Then, in 1972, University President Derek C.Bok lowered the male-female ratio for the class of1976 from 4:1 to 2.5:1. Students were happy withthe more equitable ratio, but some considered itto be too little, too late.

"It's great that he lowered it but that took along time to show itself," Piltch said.

The attempts to equalize made little differencein academics though, for women and men had beenattending class together since the mid-1950s.

Yet the classroom was rarely a place of equalopportunity.

"It's so radically different when you shareclassrooms together. There were 1,200 men with 400women on campus," remembers Tom Parry '74.

"I had many experiences in my classes where theT.F. would turn to me and ask, 'What's the woman'sperspective on this? because I was the only womanin my section," Piltch recalls.

Outside of the academic realm, Harvard womenwere also struggling for equal opportunity on theplaying field.

"A number of women in our class had theexperience of playing on athletic teams that werejust getting the back of the hand from Harvard,"Leonard says.

RoAnn Costin '74, a varsity swimmer and memberof the first Radcliffe rowing team, calls the 1973merger between the Harvard and Radcliffe athleticdepartments a major victory for female athletes.

"Budget was where the power was. All of asudden it made men sort of sit up and take noticethat women are [fielding teams] with such smallamounts of money," Costin says.

For the Radcliffe women, even these smallvictories helped them become equal to their maleclassmates.

"Just the idea of leveling the playing field,that was a huge positive change, Costin says

"The way it was designed, they were supposed tomove up in the ranks...but they were not beingmoved up into the higher paid positions," shesays.

While the administration dealt with affirmativeaction, race relations among the student body wereanother occasional source of tension. Inextracurriculars and social situations, studentstended to segregate themselves along color lines.

"In most of the [dining halls] students ofcolor sat together. There was a fair amount ofhostility and distrust. It was challenging to havecross-racial friendships," Piltch says

Diversity was not yet a watchword, thoughstudents pushed for the admittance of moreminorities.

"My class was the class that had the mostAfrican-Americans accepted. I think there were 43of us," John says. But despite the small numbers,she says she found "solidarity" and feltcomfortable in student groups like the Black Unionof Students, the predecessor to today's BlackStudents Association.

John and other students say while theself-segregation existed, it rarely caused seriousproblems among a student body concerned withchanging politics.

"The politics of race and gender [while I wasthere] are more visible now," says Michelle Green'74.

Welcoming to Women?

As political activism slowly died down,quality-of-life issues began to take center stagefor Harvard and Radcliffe students.

Women were balancing the advantages of aHarvard education with the second-rate treatmentthey felt they were given as "'Cliffies."

"There were very few choices where you couldget a co-education and still have a sense ofidentity with a group of women," Piltch says."Places like Williams and Amherst weren't co-ed.There were limited choices and Radcliffe was anespecially interesting place."

Radcliffe was made a little moreinteresting--and a little more nebulous--with the"non-merger merger," an agreement between thecolleges approved by the Board of Overseers andthe Radcliffe Board of Trustees in 1971. Under theagreement, Harvard absorbed responsibility for allof Radcliffe's finances. Radcliffe, however,maintained its governing board, presidency, andtitle to its land in Cambridge.

Immediate changes included co-ed Houses andfirst-year women living in the Yard dorms.

Then, in 1972, University President Derek C.Bok lowered the male-female ratio for the class of1976 from 4:1 to 2.5:1. Students were happy withthe more equitable ratio, but some considered itto be too little, too late.

"It's great that he lowered it but that took along time to show itself," Piltch said.

The attempts to equalize made little differencein academics though, for women and men had beenattending class together since the mid-1950s.

Yet the classroom was rarely a place of equalopportunity.

"It's so radically different when you shareclassrooms together. There were 1,200 men with 400women on campus," remembers Tom Parry '74.

"I had many experiences in my classes where theT.F. would turn to me and ask, 'What's the woman'sperspective on this? because I was the only womanin my section," Piltch recalls.

Outside of the academic realm, Harvard womenwere also struggling for equal opportunity on theplaying field.

"A number of women in our class had theexperience of playing on athletic teams that werejust getting the back of the hand from Harvard,"Leonard says.

RoAnn Costin '74, a varsity swimmer and memberof the first Radcliffe rowing team, calls the 1973merger between the Harvard and Radcliffe athleticdepartments a major victory for female athletes.

"Budget was where the power was. All of asudden it made men sort of sit up and take noticethat women are [fielding teams] with such smallamounts of money," Costin says.

For the Radcliffe women, even these smallvictories helped them become equal to their maleclassmates.

"Just the idea of leveling the playing field,that was a huge positive change, Costin says

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