Columbia University students protest constructed of a segregated gymnasium, 1968-1969

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Timing
Time Period:  
1968
1969
Location and Goals
Country: 
United States
Location City/State/Province: 
New York City
Location Description: 
Columbia University Campus, Morningside Heights
Goals: 
“1. All disciplinary probation against the six originally charged must be lifted with no reprisals. 2. Kirk’s Edict on Indoor Demonstrations be dropped. 3. All juidicial decisions should be made at an open hearing. 4. All relations with IDA must be severed. 5. Construction of Columbia gym must stop. 6. University see that all charges against persons arrested for participating in demonstrations at gym site be dropped.”
 

In 1959, Columbia University announced plans for a new gymnasium for Columbia College students and residents of the Harlem community. The gym would be segregated, with residents of the Harlem community having to enter through the basement entrance, and having limited access to the facilities. The gym was also not open for use by students from Columbia’s graduate and professional schools, Barnard College, or Teacher’s College.
In the same year, Columbia also became a member of the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA). IDA was an independent organization founded in 1956 to conduct weapons evaluation and other research for the Department of Defense. Students viewed the university’s affiliation with IDA as a symbol of aiding the Vietnam War effort and as opposing the spirit and purpose of the university as an institution for the continuation of humane ideals. In April 1967, Columbia’s president, Grayson Kirk banned picketing and demonstration inside university buildings in response to protests against on campus military recruitment.
In March 1968, students defied Kirk’s policy and staged a protest inside the Low Memorial Library demanding Columbia de-affiliate with IDA. Kirk placed six leaders of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS, founded in 1965), who later became known as the IDA-Six, on disciplinary probation following the protest.
Members of Columbia’s Student Afro-American Society (SAS, founded in 1964) spoke out against the university’s construction plans, calling the gym, “Gym Crow.” Members of SAS and SDS, Students for a Democratic Society, coalesced to protest the gym construction, despite previously working separately.
SAS and SDS organized a rally of 300 people at the Low Plaza Sun Dial on 23 April 1968. After the rally, students marched to the construction site near Morningside Park. The crowd attempted to enter Low Library to give President Kirk their demands, but 200 anti-demonstrators from the Majority Coalition barred them from entering the library.The short hair, coats, ties, and blue armbands worn by the anti-protest students and sympathetic faculty of the Majority Coalition distinguished them from protesting students as they held counter protests and prevented students from providing food to those in Low Library and called for the abolition of SDS. The Majority Coalition later changed its name to Students for Columbia University.
At approximately 2:00pm on 23 April, students began to sit-in at Hamilton Hall, where protesting students restrained Dean Henry Coleman and prevented him from leaving his office. Protesters moved the gym construction site where they tore down protective fencing. At least one demonstrator was arrested. Rudd urged protesters to return to campus where they occupied Hamilton Hall. Both students and deans spent the night in the building. Kirk proposed calling police to break-up the protests but Dean Henry Coleman and Provost David Truman advised against it because of fear of violence and backlash from the Harlem community.
Students demanded the following, “1. All disciplinary probation against the six originally charged must be lifted with no reprisals. 2. Kirk’s Edict on Indoor Demonstrations be dropped. 3. All judicial decisions should be made at an open hearing. 4. All relations with IDA must be severed. 5. Construction of Columbia gym must stop. 6. University see that all charges against persons arrested for participating in demonstrations at gym site be dropped.”
On 24 April, 86 black SAS students evicted white SDS students from Hamilton Hall, saying that SDS’ spontaneous and less-defined politics interfered with their specific goals. They renamed Hamilton Hall “Malcolm X Liberation College.” In response to the occupation of Hamilton Hall, faculty and Dean Coleman congregated in Havemeyer Hall. That evening, administrators and faculty made unsuccessful attempts at compromising with black students.
The next day, graduate students occupied Fayerweather Hall. In the late afternoon, faculty formed an Ad-Hoc Faculty Group (AHFG), which formulated proposals to end the demonstrations. At 8:00pm, activists from the Harlem congregated at the university gates and marched across campus.
On 26 April, Provost Truman announced potential police action to the Ad-Hoc Faculty Group. Faculty voiced opposition to police action, and it was cancelled. Students occupying Low and Fayerweather moved to Mathematics Hall. Columbia temporarily suspended construction on the gym.
On 27 April, SDS student leader, Mark Rudd, delivered a speech rejecting proposed faculty group compromises that did not include amnesty for striking students. William Petersen, chairman of the Board of Trustees, released a statement regarding the campus protests. Faculty began to cordon the area surrounding Low Library to prevent demonstrators’ access.
The next day, AHFG presented what came to be known as the Bitter Pill Resolution. The resolution proposed that students vacate building in for exchange Columbia’s withdrawal from IDA, the cancellation of gym construction, creating tripartite disciplinary procedures, collective and uniform disciplinary action that precluded serious consequences for protest leaders. Both administrators and students rejected this resolution.
On 30 April, New York City police, led by Chief Inspector Sandford Garelick, cleared campus. Police encountered some student resistance in Avery Hall, Fayerweather Hall, and Mathematics Hall. In total, 712 students were arrested, and 148 were injured. Following the mass arrests, the AHFG met in McMillian Theatre to discuss resolutions. Students held a strike meeting in Wollman Auditorium later that evening.
Students formed a Strike Coordinating Committee, which met in Wollman Auditorium following the arrest. These students called for a student-faculty strike and demanded that both President Kirk and Provost Truman be fired. The strike lasted through the end of the spring term.
Following the protests in the spring of 1968, SAS began to negotiate with the Faculty Executive Committee and were successful in receiving some concessions in admissions, financial aid, the university’s hiring more black faculty, and the creation of a Black Studies program. In March 1969, the University abandoned its plans for the gymnasium.
The University also recognized the need for input from other members of the community on decisions. Columbia established a University Senate, consisting of 100 members, 42 tenured faculty, 17 non-tenured faculty, 20 students, 7 administrators, 6 staff representatives, and 2 alumni representatives. The president presided over the Senate, which was responsible for considering “matters of University-wide concern.” The senate held its first meeting on 29 May in the faculty room of Low Library.

Research Notes
Sources: 
Anon. 2008. “1968: Columbia in Crisis.” Columbia University Libraries Online Exhibitions. Retrieved March 22, 2015 (https://web.archive.org/web/20150323021821/https://exhibitions.cul.columbia.edu/exhibits/show/1968).

Avorn, Jerry L. 1969. Up Against the Ivy Wall: A History of the Columbia Crisis. New York: Atheneum.

Kunen, James Simon. 1968. The Strawberry Statement: Notes of a College Revolutionary. New York: Random House.

Additional Notes: 
In the late 50s and through the 60s Columbia staged a number of protests related to the Vietnam War, Civil Rights, and other pertinent issues of the period. The database entry focuses exclusively on students' campaign to cease plans on construction of the segregated gymnasium, though this campaign is interrelated with other campaigns occurring during the same period on the Columbia campus.

Chief Inspector Sandford Garelick who lead police action to clear Columbia campus, was also involved in clearing the campus of City College following an anti-Vietnam sanctuary organized by students.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
ShaKea Alston 21/03/2015