Like students nationwide, Harvard activists have taken many of their lessons from, the experience of the civil rights movement, and one of the most notable legacies has been the mass demonstration. Once the talk of extremist political agitators and labor unions, "rally" and "strike" have becoem part of the standard vocabulary of most Harvard undergraduates.
The most dramatic series of student demonstrations was undoubtedly the uprisings of 1969. When the University failed to respond to student calls to kick the Reserve Officers Training Corp (ROTC) off-campus and half its expansion into the community, among others, more than 200 demonstrators took over University Hall, forcibly evicting administrators who refused in leave. Harvard President Nathan M. Pusey '28 subsequently used Cambridge police to exict the students, a move which further polarized the community. In protest, student activists died to strike classes. Less than one-fourth of the student body attended classes until a week later when 5000 students voted to suspend the strike.
Since 1969, Harvard protests have not reached this level again, in either numbers of intensity. Neither, however, has Harvard returned to the placid era of the early 1950s. For example, when the Vietnam War ended, students refocused on a cause of even greater longstanding--full racial equality. Initially attention was directed at the University's internal policies. Student protest helped in establishing the Afro-American Studies Department one of the standards of the '69 strikers.
Later, attention turned to racism on a different front University holdings it, firms that do business in the apartheid state of South Africa. Students began to rally around calls for the University to divest from such companies. Beginning in the early 1970s, protests-welled in 1978 and 1979. A candelight march for divestiture in 1978 drew more than 3000.
The early 1980s saw demonstrations on a broader range of issues. Gay and lesbian students marched to protest discrimination and Harvard's failure to opt a non-discrimination policy for gays.
Women began to challenge violence agains women and sexism in annual "Tale Back the Night" marches.
But the popularization of the demonstration seemed to correspond with a decline in the terror of all but a dedicated core of participants. B-1983, students were marching to save. Harvard's Ivy, and the University felt comfortable enough to retire a t-shirt with the demands of the 1969 strikers printed on it to the University Archives.
Yet demonstrations are far from dead at Harvard. Most are the annual protests divestiture and "Take Back the Night" marches continue-al-belt with a more less fervor. But not all are so habitual. This year, for example, students took to the street spontaneously to protests the U.S. invasion of Grenada and closer to home: the newsletter of the Pi Eta Speakers Club, which used violent and degrading imagery to describe women.
Asked about demonstrations at Harvard. Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III remarked, "I think it that a year has gone by without there being a demonstrations at Harvard. For the immediate future at least his contention will undoubtedly continue to hold true.