by Moss Robeson
This week in 1975 it was reported in The Load that in “a show of inter-campus solidarity,” some 30 Purchase students trekked to Long Island to attend a protest at SUNY Old Westbury against recent budget cuts to the SUNY system, which threatened to shut down Old Westbury and other colleges. “Purchase Unites With Old Westbury to Fight Cuts,” read the headline.
In coming months, the “Purchase Fight-Back Committee” was formed, and both campuses participated in statewide student protests, occupations, and strikes, including a 10,000 strong demonstration of CUNY and SUNY students in Albany that March. The latter event inspired the above cartoon in the student newspaper.
“Just two months after the original date of opening, just one months after the revised date of opening,” on Saturday, November 6th, students were “finally” able to move into the first apartments on campus, today known as the Olde. “The long history of difficulties surrounding the apartments has become all too familiar to upperclassmen,” Madeline Lawlor wrote in The Load. “Their completion has been shrouded in mystery for so long that a general feeling arose that they were somehow not meant to be. Even after the move, a student stood in her kitchen saying, ‘I can’t believe that we’re really here—I feel as if any minute someone is going to come in here and say get out; that it was all a mistake.’”
“In the past, students have wanted to create a sense of community at Purchase, but the isolating atmosphere of the dormitory has always been a major stumbling block… The lack of bricks has been cited as one of the most desirable aspects of the apartments. But a more important aspect is that Purchase students are getting acquainted with each other, in some cases for their first time, after living under the same roof for three years. One walks around the apartment complex on paths called streets. Knocks on doors open to the aroma of food cooking… A new aspect of student life has just been added to the Purchase community, a neighborhood.” [Emphasis added]
This week in 1978, after half a year spent researching the issue, a faculty task force chaired by Lee Schlesinger “voted unanimously to urge the retention of the present calendar,” that is, the so-called short-term, a sort of independent study offered to students. The “intensive four week short term,” explained a future article in The Load, “one of the cornerstones of an ambitious and innovative curriculum conceived by the founders of the college… may become the first casualty” of the standardization and normalization of SUNY Purchase. Indeed, the college president Michael Hammond ultimately disregarded the recommendation of Schlesinger’s task force, and on Valentine’s Day in 1979, announced at a crowded faculty meeting, “I’m afraid I don’t have a very popular decision to make…”
This week in 1980, “Recalling ‘the sea of all-white faces’ he saw when he greeted the incoming freshmen at the beginning of the semester,” the new acting president of the college, Henrik Dullea, made a speech in which he assailed the lack of diversity at SUNY Purchase. “I do not accept the perception that the dream of Purchase was to be the best private institution that public money could buy!” He furthermore said he was “shocked and deeply distressed by the fact that we do not have this semester one single full-time Black faculty member teaching outside the DEO [Division of Education Opportunity] program… Such situations do not just ‘happen.’ They happen because affirmative action has not been a constant and serious priority. I know there are many excuses and rationalizations. Some are legitimate, but some I would prefer not even to mention.”
After a three year struggle for the right to vote on campus, Purchase students did so in the presidential election for the first time in 1984. Of 1,000 students who registered to vote, more than 3/4ths of them cast their ballots on November 6th. Less than 100 voted for Reagan.
Also this week in 1984, The Load published an interview with professor Peter Schwab, not for the first time. Among other questions, he was asked, “Reagan seems to have escaped the full impact of certain issues… To what do you attribute this ability?” He answered, “I think it is a real skill… People who say that Reagan doesn’t know what he is doing are quite wrong. Part of it is attributable to what many American people want to hear and what they don’t want to hear. I think Reagan has the ability to understand…this moment in America… I think in part that after Vietnam, after Watergate, after the Hostage crisis, my analysis is that the American people have had enough of this kind of difficulty and they are looking for a President that will tell them everything’s OK, even when everything is not OK.”
Two days after the election, Vice President George HW Bush appeared at an event at Pepsico headquarters. As he left, Bush’s motorcade “drove past… over 40 Purchase students… waving Mondale/Ferraro banners and verbally expressing their disapproval with Reagan administration policies.” According to a film student who was present, the protest was a “very important symbol for the [Purchase] community.” Reportedly, students from Iona, Pace, and Manhattanville colleges were invited to attend the Bush event, but Purchase students were “refused entry.”
“Republicans Block Students’ Vote” read a headline on the front page of The Load this week in 1985. Republican election inspectors challenged the validity of a number of students’ voter registration information, much if not most of it from 1984, on the grounds that they had moved to another dorm or apartment. The Republican Westchester election commissioner agreed with the complainants, but it’s unclear how many students were unable to vote as a result. Meanwhile, the sale of pitchers of beer was suspended indefinitely in the Pub on November 7th, in anticipation of the drinking age being raised to 21 on December 1st.
This week in 2008, Purchase students celebrated Barack Obama’s victory in the presidential election by swarming the quad. “Obama! (What?!) Obama! (What?!)” students chanted, and “O-B-A…M-A! …O-B-A…M-A!” (You can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q14iz6uJNNY)
Also this week in 2011, the “SUNY Purchase Community General Assembly,” formed in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street, moved its meetings from the Food Co-Op (what is now the Freestore) to the Clock Tower. At the November 8th meeting of the General Assembly, students proposed to occupy the mall the following week. The minutes relayed some tentative plans being proposed for the week of action:
“Sleep in tents, info table, teach-ins during class breaks, community dinner Sunday evening provided by a dumpster-diving trip Sunday AND the Food Co-op selling food, banners by DA/Art Co-op. Talk to legal about knowing the rules we may be violating BEFORE we violate them, to be better prepared. Proposal: permanent outside chalk space for GA news & info… [and] create a map of the area being used, so logistically we know how to direct traffic (learn from Zuccotti’s mistakes)…[and] whiteboard with daily info, from PUSH office… NOTE: WE SHOULD ALL RESPECT EACH OTHERS’ DECISION ON HOW TO PROTEST.”