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Unrest at SUNY Geneseo in 1968

Brief History of Protests at SUNY Geneseo in the 1960s

A brief history of the protests at SUNY Geneseo in the 1960s

The 1960s were a turbulent time on the Geneseo campus, involving incessant controversy between students and administration. Causes of quarrel ranged from local dilemmas such as administrative failure, to the larger issues of the day, such as gender inequality and pacifist movements. Students became more vocal and active on campus. The campus demographic was mostly female at the time, but as the number of affluent males enrolled at the college increased, so did the number and magnitude of student protests.

Much of the local strife revolved around the questionable leader, President Robert MacVittie. MacVittie was new to the position and many of his decisions were highly contended and disapproved of. Beginning with yearbook workers complaining about the little recognition and credit they received for their countless hours of work, the campus began to resist. Soon students were violating the absurd curfew regulations and protesting the college’s in loco parentis policy. Dissent also surfaced with the untimely dismissals of numerous esteemed faculty members. Moreover, national crusades such as those for academic freedom, women's rights, and opposition to the Vietnam War found their way to the campus.

The administration, however, remained stoic. Claiming they maintained regular meetings with student delegates to discuss points of contention, while still remaining outwardly apathetic to criticism and conservative in action, administrators undermined the actions of student protesters and failed to keep up with the demands of students. A frightening example of the discord between students and administration was the advent of the John Birch Society and American Nazi Party on campus, which flew in the face of civil rights protests and the push for equality.

In response to the tense political atmosphere on campus, Distinguished Professor of English and lifelong Thoreau scholar Walter Harding commented, “there is no intellectual desert on campus". Interestingly enough, Harding is also quoted to have been disappointed in the academic rigor of Geneseo students, prior to these developments. Times were clearly changing, the “Silent Generation” was finding its voice, and scholars such as Harding took note.