Storming up Sheridan Road
In the 1950s and ‘60s, Northwestern was a hotbed of anti-war activism. This activism mostly came in the form of silent protests at the Rock, teach-ins across campus and demonstrations against the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) program. These demonstrations often involved forming barrier-like lines of students outside NROTC buildings until police arrested or forcibly removed students. Roger Friedman (Speech ‘70) recalls the largest student demonstration during his time at NU as an event in the winter of 1968. Between 50 and 100 students sat down in the middle of a freezing Sheridan Road in protest of the Vietnam War, effectively stopping traffic. “We tried to do this during rush hour in the afternoon to really create a mess. The idea was really guerilla theatre — just to create attention and press and media that there were a lot of students, even at a place like Northwestern, that were very much adamantly against the war,” he says.
Frats criticized by the Chicago Defender
The Psi Upsilon president removed Sherman Wu, a first-year Chinese student, from the frat in 1956 when several white students refused to join the chapter on the basis of not wanting to associate with a Chinese person. A Chicago Defender article detailing the event asks, “We wonder if our schools are educating bigots instead of men of vision.” According to this story, a total of seven white men boycotted the fraternity’s recruitment of Wu, ultimately convincing chapter president Jack Lageschulte to coercively “depledge” him. Among other things, the article points out that “this nation is committed to the liberation of the subjugated peoples,” but the decisions of these college students sparked “screaming headlines around the world that Americans are hypocrites.”
Tinder for the Bursar’s Takeover
In the ’60s, fraternities were often the sites of “plantation parties.” These parties, hosted annually by Kappa Sigma, featured a minstrel show and general mockery of Black people. White students would hand out invitations for these events while “black-faced, white-gloved and spiritual-singing,” according to an account in the student publication Purple Parrot. A few of the most disturbing instances include boys dressing up in blackface and then assaulting Black women. In March of this year, former For Members Only president Kathryn Ogletree (WCAS ‘71) said during a speaking event on campus that she “had to be careful walking from the south end of campus to the north end of campus because somebody might drop a beer can with beer in it out the window. You know, trying to make it land on our heads. They would throw cans with urine in it to fall on us.”
In April 1997, about 20 students made a point of PDA in front of the rock. After a speech by the director of the Illinois Federation on Human Rights (today known as Equality Illinois), students got to smooching. The students had a competition for best kisser and awarded “butchest” walk and “queeniest” walk titles. While the Daily Northwestern quoted a CAS (no W yet!) sophomore who “didn’t mind gays and lesbians” but wondered “why they have to make a circus out of it,” others were more accepting, like another sophomore who said he wasn’t “used to seeing same-sex kissing” but found it “cool.” Co-organizer and Bisexual, Gay and Lesbian Alliance member Shana Krochmal (Medill ’99) “didn’t want to sit around saying ‘Oh, we’re gay and oppressed.‘” Instead, the organizers of the event wanted a “celebration” – and to shock the “campus’ conservatism.” Oh, how the tables turn!