Arch, and Vigil
Written April 16, 2002
This is Tom Witheridge. I'm out in Men's Quadrangle now. The torches are being lit; the demonstration is starting.
It was a time of demonstrations. It was 1967 at Oberlin College.
Many of the 2500 students chafed at the restrictions of life in the three-story dormitories. They wanted to live in their own style, not according to rules dictated by the college in loco parentis (in the place of their parents). At least three avenues of escape were being pursued.
Locations of some campus buildings, with dorms in red:
Tom Witheridge '69 and I were colleagues at the campus radio station, WOBC. We each hosted an Oberlin Digest program with news, interviews, and commentary at 11:00 PM.
My show aired on Fridays and focused on sports. Witheridge's show was on Mondays and featured student government.
For his program on Monday, May 8, my colleague (at right) borrowed my new battery-operated cassette recorder to record an event planned for that evening. I still have the tape, which, along with reports from the campus newspaper Oberlin Review, forms the basis of this article.
Tlhe event was billed as a "March, Arch, and Vigil." After a march through the campus from north to south (see map at left), the leaders planned to return to the Arch to speak, then to hold an all-night vigil inside King.
King was a classroom building. In one of its auditoriums, the General Faculty was scheduled to meet the following day to discuss student housing issues. The leaders hoped to influence the faculty's vote by demonstrating the students' commitment.
Although the demonstration was about issues, the tape suggests another impetus: the youthful exuberance of college students in early May.
As people shouted and a bass drum thumped in the distance, Tom Witheridge taped his first interview around 9:00 PM.
In the 21st century, Paul Osterman '68 teaches at MIT. He's Professor of Human Resources and Management at the Institute for Work and Employment Research, part of MIT's Sloan School of Management.
I'm speaking now with Paul Osterman, one of the leaders of tonight's demonstration. Paul, what do you hope to accomplish tonight?
"I think we hope to show the faculty and administration that we want substantial changes in the social rules, and I think we want to show them that students demand that the Constitution's going to work."
Is this then, purely social rules and housing? Is it possibly co-op, fourth co-op?
"I think this has implications for the fourth co-op, yes."
other words, it's sort of a potpourri demonstration, all the student
demands that have not been met this year.
The Constitution of the Association of Students (1966) provided that the Student Senate could initiate legislation on student affairs, subject to ratification by the faculty.
To senators who expected the faculty to go along with all of their ideas, the system was not working: their bills were getting vetoed.
Two student generations later, a working system had been established, but now most students had lost interest. Click here for a letter that I wrote in June 1975.
"Yeah, I think that we feel that the Constitution hasn't given us what it promised us. I think we feel that when we accepted the Constitution, we thought that we were going to make our own social rules. We were going to make our own social rules, and I think we've been turned down time after time again by the faculty, and I think we have to show them that we mean business."
Now what will happen if tomorrow the faculty does not come through with the demands, particularly on housing?
"What will happen tomorrow will depend on what Student Senate decides to do."
I see. Thank you very much, Paul Osterman.
A nearby motorcycle punctuated Witheridge's report from the Men's Quad, the cluster of men's dorms at the north end of the campus.
We are now pulling away from North Hall. The noise here is deafening.
The crowd isn't particularly large as yet. I would imagine myself that as we approach the Library, the crowd will increase. There are approximately 15 torches now lit. I would say that the crowd probably now numbers, oh, 50 or 60, both men and women.
A chant went up at East Hall to urge the residents to come out and join the march: "East out! East out!"
attempt is now being made to "turn out East." East
seems to be a little bit recalcitrant at the moment.
One demonstrator noticed Witheridge carrying the little microphone marked WOBC. "Woe-Bee-Cee?" he asked incredulously. "Yeah!" Our little ten-watt station, restrained by its wires, rarely got a microphone into the middle of the action. "This is a revolution!" the demonstrator yelled. Witheridge wryly concurred:
WOBC is covering the first annual revolution.
The crowd is now increasing. I would imagine that now we have well over a hundred angry, venomous students. It doesn't seem to be too well organized, but that may just be my impression.
march, by the way, will cover pretty much the entire campus.
It will end at approximately 10 o'clock at the Arch in Tappan
Square. And then, following speeches by student leaders, the
demonstration will turn into an all-night vigil at King, the
On a small campus, students can star in multiple roles. Like Witheridge, Robert Krulwich '69 was both a political activist and a radio commentator. He too had an Oberlin Digest, the Field-Krulwich Report on Wednesdays.
Krulwich went on to a larger stage. According to his ABC-TV biography, "his specialty is explaining complex news economics, technology, science in a style that is clear, compelling and entertaining." His history of the Barbie doll won an Emmy, and his series about carbon's role in global warming won a Webby.
I'm walking with Bernie Mayer, who is the president of the Student Senate. He will be speaking at the Arch; he prefers not to speak right now.
I'm speaking now with sophomore Robert Krulwich, former member of Senate and campus radical. Robert, what do you make of the situation?
"I think it's a splendid turnout, and I hope that there will be an immediate and quick response from the faculty tomorrow."
That's very unlikely, Robert, as you know.
"Well, we can always hope. This is an enthusiastic demonstration."
Yes, it's loud, too, isn't it?
Thank you, Robert Krulwich.
The demonstration had now reached Barrows Hall, an architecturally undistinguished dormitory for freshman men. The chants threatened to drown out the commentator. "Let's go!" "Live off campus now!" And this truism: "You're not going to get off campus by staying in the dorm!"
We've just passed by Kettering; we are now very close to the Carnegie Library, and it will be interesting to see if the largest libe stunt in the history of Oberlin College works out.
So far there are no counter-pickets; that would seem to be a little bit unlikely, but who knows. East Hall came very close to providing the counter-picket; I guess they were just bored.
It's an interesting group, however. It's not the same group you would find on an anti-war march, by any means. There are quite a few people from both sides of the political spectrum. It seems to be . . . it seems to be . . . oh, my God, this is getting awfully loud. I'll have to sign off for the time being.
Stadium horns, those four-foot-long brightly colored plastic noisemakers, began braying along with the shouting and the roar of motorcycles.
We are now at the library. The people in the library seem just to be sitting there, looking at us. Ha, ha, that's very funny. I suppose they don't know what it is.
Oh, now we are starting to enter the library. Here we go into the library.
I'm in the main lobby, the main lobby of Carnegie Library; you wouldn't believe it. The crowd seems to be multiplying at this moment. It's very funny: half of the main reading room seems just to be looking at us, just as before.
Now the battle cry became "Wilder!"
The movement now is towards Wilder Hall. Let's see who we can get there.
I am now leading the parade, by the way. Everyone is behind me; they seem to be following me. This is thrilling.
So far, I haven't seen any campus policemen.
We are now entering the Snack Bar. En masse. I take it back, we are not going into the Snack Bar; we are standing out here and yelling at them.
You don't think it's going to do any good?
"No. Are you recording this? I really don't think it's going to do any good."
"Because I don't think anyone's going to pay any attention to it."
That's probably true, but it's a lot of fun.
(begging off) "I have a lot of studying tonight to do."
All right. Thank you very much. Anne Blodgett, College freshman.
We have now passed Wilder; we are on our way south. The crowd is much larger than it was at the beginning. I would say that now well, I don't know anything about crowds, but I would say that now probably we have easily 200 people.
is the last time I'm going to carry a tape recorder at one of these
things. It makes me look ridiculous. People are staring
at me. They think I'm the press!
The same students showed up at all these events, whether they were rallies against the Viet Nam War (which might attract the attention of the Subversive Squad) or civil-rights marches or something more lighthearted. But the majority, such as myself, did not participate.
Segregated from the men's dormitories, the women's dormitories were on the south side of the campus. The nearest was the freshman dorm called Dascomb.
We're now at Dascomb Hall. We're trying to get Dascomb to turn out. Dascomb seems to be sitting there. The men can't quite figure out whether this is a panty raid or a demonstration.
have given up on Dascomb and are now heading south to the upperclass
women's dorms, where who knows what will happen. By the way,
the Cleveland Subversive Squad
is not, repeat, is not at this demonstration.
Harkness, in the grand tradition of freshman dorms, seems to be apathetic.
have given up on Harkness and are now on our way to Talcott.
Easily 250 people here right now, a crowd that is definitely growing
by leaps and bounds.
speaking now with hoarse Bill Hedges,
who is a College sophomore who constructed single-handedly
well, almost single-handedly the torches tonight. Bill,
you also constructed the torches for the march through the town,
didn't you, for peace several weeks ago?
Who taught you how, Bill?
Bill Hedges '69 seemed always to be involved in whatever protest was taking place. Here he confronts college president Robert K. Carr after midnight on April 12, 1969. That visit to the Administration Building got him suspended.
For another 1969 incident, also involving Hedges and Carr and covered on WOBC, click here.
Uh, LIFE magazine, I believe.
"Yes, they're the ones that started it all."
They look like burning marshmallows when they get down to a certain . . .
"They certainly don't taste like marshmallows."
They don't. Thank (coughing, perhaps from the smoke) Thank you, Bill Hedges. Bill, are you pleased with the turnout tonight?
(laughing) You're what?
"No, I'm not pleased."
"Unless there are 2500 students out here, I'm not pleased."
Do you think that there will be a large turnout at the vigil?
hope so, but I doubt it."
The potential legal problem, of course, was that students were not supposed to enter a classroom building after hours nor to stay there overnight.
You doubt it. Is there going to be any legal problem there?
I am now in a position where I can see the crowd a little bit better and must unfortunately revise my earlier estimate of the crowd. I would say that now the crowd is no larger, certainly, than 250. I would imagine that by the time the Arch starts, the crowd will have increased somewhat, however.
We are now at South Hall. South Hall, which many people think is a bastion of stay-put-ism on the Oberlin campus; and it seems to be proving itself as just that tonight, because nobody, repeat nobody, seems to be joining our demonstration itself. The house mothers are standing at the front door almost as if to say, "Careful, girls, you don't know what you're getting into."
Here come two brave souls from the front door of South. Oh, I'm sorry, they were already in the group. They were recruiters.
Paul Osterman has just announced that we are going to go to President Carr's house. He has advised the crowd to behave themselves. The crowd booed that remark.
Another WOBC connection: Paul Lawn '68 had been my color analyst when I broadcast Yeoman basketball games earlier in 1967. His campus political party, LCA, was one of six (mostly of the left-wing variety) that had backed candidates in the March elections for Student Senate.
Practically all the leaders of this demonstration had also been Senate candidates. Their political enthusiasm was reflected in the student body as a whole; 76% of eligible voters cast ballots.
CR Lawn, as he is known, went on to get a law degree at Yale, where he was acquainted with Hillary Rodham (later Clinton). In 1978, he founded the still-thriving Fedco Seeds cooperative in Waterville, Maine.
I'm speaking now with junior Paul "CR" Lawn, who is a member of Senate. Paul, you're also a member of LCA. I understand that LCA is supporting this demonstration. Is that true?
"That's correct. LCA felt that the legislative channels have been blocked for too long and felt that this was the best way of mobilizing student support.
"As you recall, during the campaign we laid a great deal of stress on student support of the Senate proposals, and this is one of the best ways of doing it. This is a way the faculty and administration will know that students are serious in their proposals and that the Senate is representative of what students want."
Certain leaders have recommended that perhaps after today, if student demands are not met and it would seem to be a little bit optimistic on our part to think they would be met tomorrow at the meeting that a certain amount of escalation would be made in our tactics. Do you think that LCA and particularly your followers, followers of LCA, would be willing to take part in more coercive demonstrations?
"Yes, I think so. I think if we don't get any response, particularly if we don't get our apartments proposal through, if we don't get the fourth co-op, I can see where more coercive forms what you might call escalation, sit-ins, whatever is decided might well be in order.
"Students have fought for these things for a long time now, ever since I've been on the campus, and it just seems like the more evolutionary means haven't been working. And when this is the case, we feel that more revolutionary means are in order."
Thank you very much, junior Paul Lawn. The last time I went to the president's house, it wasn't this quiet. It was, I believe, two weeks ago, wasn't it? Paul?
When was the panty raid?
"Oh, yeah, that was about two weeks ago. I wasn't there for that. The Viet Nam meeting was held that night."
Yeah. It was not nearly this quiet. We're being quiet now; under pressure, I will admit. The crowd has been instructed to be quiet.
Now the crowd is being instructed to stay out of the street by the police car which is going by with its flasher flashing. It's a little bit strange that the police should be so concerned about clearing the streets, because there are no other cars within sight on the street. It may just be a principled stand on the part of the police department.
a matter of fact, the police car is going through the crowd.
Now, may I step down from my objective podium and state here that it
seems to me that perhaps the safety advantages of clearing the
streets are somewhat negated by the action of a police car roaring
through a mob of students.
The dormitories under construction south of South Hall were originally intended for women. However, in an effort to improve dorm life, it was later decided to make them into something more: special-interest dorms such as French House (where French was spoken in the public areas) or African-American House (a positive instance of racially segregated housing).
We are now passing by the new dorms on the south part of the campus, the new women's dorms. There's an ominous silence now as we pass the new women's dorms.
The crowd tonight seems to be transcending all usual political boundaries, as I said earlier, going from Paul Lawn to Matt Rinaldi. It seems to be very well-behaved, very quiet right now.
We have now arrived at the home of President Robert K. Carr. Just to show how well-behaved the crowd is, occasional outbursts are met with disfavor from the rest of the group. The students are keeping off the grass.
The house is dark. The president does not seem to be home. At least, if he is, he's hiding under his bed.
Paul Osterman was heard addressing the crowd:
". . . President Carr's house and explain to him why we're here. There are 400 of us here, and we're going to explain why we're upset by the Constitution and why it's not working. After we do that, we're going to move over to an Arch, okay?"
We are now standing at the front door of 154 Forest Avenue. There seems to be no response. Paul Osterman has just suggested that we leave a note for the president.
What did it say, Paul?
"I'll read it to you when we're done."
Oh, it's not done yet.
Accompanied by tambourine and bass drum, the crowd softly sang, "Off-campus housing, we shall not be moved."
Now what does the letter say?
"It says to the effect that we stopped by peacefully to express our discontent with the way the system's been working thus far."
The note was signed "for 400 Oberlin students" by Osterman and Ted Morgan.
The group retraced their steps, heading north to the center of the campus to the sound of a beating drum.
We are now on our way to the Arch on Tappan Square. My estimates of the crowd were apparently wrong. I might comment that I have been standing in front of the demonstration pretty much all night and therefore haven't been able to see, perhaps, all of the people.
There has been a change in plans! We are now at Peters Hall instead of the Arch. The door of Peters seems to be open; we are going inside. The torches are being extinguished.
This is a real change. We are now, I am now in Peters Hall. I imagine this is a violation of some sort. It's been my experience that generally everything I do on this campus is a violation of some rule.
Apparently it was decided that this is a better place for the meeting. Is that true, Tom Wellman?
"It was decided beforehand that we would use Peters."
That we would use Peters. Are we going to use King tonight for the vigil?
don't believe so, unless we have an overflow crowd. We had
students planted inside the building who gave us access to it."
This part of the tape was picked up by the Cleveland Plain Dealer. In its coverage of the demonstration the next morning, the newspaper said that "the college radio station reported" that students had hidden inside Peters to let the demonstrators in.
Then it was not entered by an illegal key?
"It was not breaking and entering in any sense of the word."
Thank you very much. Apparently this is the place of the sleep-in.
Speaking from the balcony, Paul Osterman addressed the throng.
"Since we accepted the Constitution a year ago, we've been turned down on a whole variety of issues, from section autonomy to housing to drugs, everything.
"Now we're here to discuss and demonstrate to the faculty and to the administration that we want to make the Constitution work, that we want to make our own social rules. This is why the demonstration was called." (applause)
Bernie Mayer is going to talk about housing and the problems there,
and Ted Morgan is going to talk about section autonomy. After
that, we have to talk about where we're going to spend the night."
Ted Morgan '68 has been a member of the faculty at Lehigh University since the mid-1970s. A professor of political science, he specializes in propaganda and mass media as well as social and political movements.
Ted Morgan, chairman of the Student Senate's social rules committee, was the next speaker.
"Well, uh, I'd say basically from the turnout that there's a large amount of discontent on the campus with the social rules."
A student shouted, "You bet there is!" This led to cheering.
"The specific issue which sparked off timing the demonstration now was the housing problem. Bernie's going to talk about that. Tomorrow the faculty meets; they will finally discuss the housing solution. They will consider the Senate proposal, they will consider the Student Life's recommendation, and they will act on this.
"Section autonomy, however, is not going to be considered. It's not going to be presented and considered in its final form tomorrow."
There were hisses. "Why not?" someone shouted, to applause. Morgan pressed on.
"I think, however, that section autonomy has got to be the issue of the year. It's been talked over all year long. We've gone through meeting after meeting after frustrating meeting with the Student Life Committee; we've gotten absolutely or almost absolutely nowhere on section autonomy.
main problem has been that the faculty has not seen eye to eye with
us on the nature of the student problem generally,
philosophically. They do not feel, many people do not feel that
students are mature enough to structure their own social
In other words, opposite-sex visitors might be permitted for a few hours in the evening.
"The level of discussion on the committee meetings the last year has been whether or not we're going to have a 7-to-10 proposal with strict enforcement" (derisive laughter) "or a 7-to-12 proposal with strict enforcement."
Booing led to the shouted demand, "Twenty-four hours! Now!" And that led to 40 seconds of cheers and rhythmic applause.
right, that was beautiful!" (laughter)
"However could I have your attention there's got to be some kind of problem in faculty awareness of student needs when the best meeting we have all year is with the Trustees, who start discussing the merits of 24 hours with us. Not the faculty, who start discussing . . ."
Morgan was drowned out by cheers for the Trustees' willingness to consider 24 hours. Finally he continued.
"I think the thing that we have needed most all year long was some kind of general turnout, some kind of real feeling of student support for 24-hour section autonomy. A feeling that students are mature enough to make their own social rules." (applause) "That the student's room in a dorm is in effect his home, that the college does not have any ultimate reign over the decisions the person makes in there, whether he's with a girl or with a boy or what." (laughter)
"Therefore, I hope the faculty takes into good consideration tomorrow the fact that we did have this size of turnout and that everyone here supports or almost everyone here, from the vocalness of the group supports 24-hour section autonomy and feels that . . . "
Again Morgan was stopped by more than half a minute of cheering and rhythmic applause. He decided to wrap it up.
I turn the floor over to Bernie Mayer to discuss housing, I move
that if Peters falls down, we transform Barrows into a classroom building!"
In the 21st century, Bernard Mayer '68, Ph.D., is still mediating and negotiating conflicts, ranging from family arguments to intergovernmental disputes. He's the author of The Dynamics of Conflict Resolution: A Practitioner's Guide and the managing partner of the non-profit CDR Associates in Boulder, Colorado.
Student Senate president Bernie Mayer took the floor and energetically addressed the crowd.
"All right! I think we've got to ask ourselves, WHY IS IT" (enthusiastic cheering) "WHY IS IT that after a year of negotiating on housing" (cheers) "we can't get through one lousy small proposal which almost makes no difference?" (cheers)
"Why, after we've been talking with faculty and administration people about increasing off-campus housing, about giving students more freedom in choosing which housing they want, and after apparently getting some response from them, WHY IS IT that we still haven't made any substantive change?" (cheers)
"WHY IS IT, after an overwhelming show of student support for a fourth co-op, after overwhelming faculty support for a fourth co-op, does President Carr say, well, we'll have to see what the executive committee of the Trustees say, and what they're going to do . . ."
Another half-minute outburst began with the chant, "Fourth co-op!" Some of the students decided to raise the ante, and the chant gradually became "Fifth co-op!"
"And you know, the executive committee of the Trustees is meeting on the 18th, and what they're probably going to do is say, well, the whole Trustees have got to talk on this" (shouts of 'No!') "and they're not going to meet until June, and that means no fourth co-op next year!"
were boos. One young woman yelled, "What are we going to do?"
"So the question is, why are we where we are after a year of serious attempts, attempts to go through all the channels, attempts that we've made in complete good faith? WHY IS IT that we haven't gotten anything except women's hours, which was already in the works?
"I think the reason isn't so much that a couple of people want to stall us, but there's a real basic attitude among the powers-that-be in this college which unfortunately at this point doesn't include us there's a real attitude that, with regard to student demands and student requests, when in doubt, don't.
"There seems to be a real unwillingness on the part of both the faculty and the administration to give students any substantial sphere within which they have the right to make decisions. And the right to make decisions means not only the right to formulate proposals but the right to put them into effect and take the chance that they might be wrong." (cheers)
we don't have now is the right to be wrong about anything!
"Now let me just tell you briefly what happened with this housing proposal, just to give you an idea. And then I'll stop; I'm getting hoarse.
"First, a few months ago, three or four months ago, students starting talking with administration people about what can we do about the off-campus situation. How can we increase the number? How can we prevent the number from, in fact, decreasing? And how can we give students a greater diversity in housing?
right. We were told, when we asked for the right to choose our
own apartments or our own places off-campus, that this was a decision
that the deans would be making. Okay, so we said, good, the
deans are making it; let's talk to the deans about it, let's convince
them about it, how important it is. All right?
Daniel K. VanEyck was the dean of men. The following week, he would announce his resignation to take a position at his alma mater, Carleton College.
"Some time later, Dean VanEyck and others indicated to us, no, you won't be able to have the right to choose whatever off-campus housing is available; it's got to be limited to certain types. So then Student Senate decided, well, we've got to pass a more formal proposal, a more formal resolution, and submit it to the deans. Maybe this will put a little bit more pressure on. So Student Senate did it. Both the old Student Senate and the new Student Senate did it by unanimous vote, I think. The new Student Senate certainly did it by unanimous vote." (cheers)
"And then it went to the deans, and after they fiddled around with it, they said, well, this is a decision which the Student Life Committee is going to have to make. And maybe if they decide in our favor, the decision is going to have to be ratified by the Trustees.
"Okay, so the Student Life Committee, we present it to them and what do they say? Well, it's too late, we don't have enough time to consider it, we don't have enough time to look into the whole basic housing problem; therefore we can't give you anything this year." (boos)
"Now we're going to appeal it tomorrow. We're going to appeal this decision tomorrow. I don't know what the chances are of it being overturned, but I do know that I've gotten strong indications that if it is over"
At this point, the 30-minute cassette abruptly ran out.
Witheridge brought my recorder back to the nearby WOBC studios in Wilder Hall, rewound the tape, and played it on the air. He had only half an hour of air time, because Larry Rappoport and Folk Box were scheduled for 11:30.
That night, about 150 students (six per cent of the student body) stayed in Peters Hall.
So what was the outcome? The next day, Tuesday, the faculty did uphold the rejection of the Student Senate proposal. And on Wednesday, an angry declaration of independence (unsigned, and subsequently disclaimed by the Senate) was mimeographed and distributed to faculty offices and dorms. It read in part:
Click here for my May 11 response to this statement.
But the situation wasn't as bad as all that.
For example, the following week the Trustees' executive committee did vote to make Harkness the fourth co-op.
That fall, a newly-enrolled female student pointed out to a dean that Oberlin's parietal rules could have an unintended consequence. "Parietal," referring to the walls of a cavity, was used to describe regulations for decorum "within the walls" of a college. In particular, "parietal rules" strictly limited visits within a dormitory by members of the opposite sex. In 2020, Heather Partridge Oppenheimer of the Class of 1971 posted her recollection:
After another year of struggle, in June 1968 the Trustees approved a compromise plan for "parietal hours": afternoons from 1:00 till 5:00 and evenings from 7:00 till 11:30, or till 2:00 AM on weekends.
By 1970 there were 358 off-campus housing spaces, the "polarization" of the campus (men's dorms in the north and women's in the south) had been broken up, and some dorms had even been made co-educational.
Change did come, although not nearly as fast as the students would have liked.
When we are students, we can have little patience for tradition and liability issues and bureaucratic procedures. We can be so wrapped up in our own "demands" that we overlook the concerns of other people. We can ignore the female student who does not want to find a man in the hall outside her dorm room at dawn. We can ignore the young faculty couple who had been hoping to rent that scarce off-campus apartment themselves.
We can indulge ourselves this way when the month is May and we are young.