by Moss Robeson
The Purchase Phoenix is proud to announce our new regular column, This Week in SUNY Purchase History, a new weekly installment brought to you by Moss Robeson, creator of the Today in SUNY Purchase History (TiSPH) social media accounts. Unless otherwise specified, all quotes are taken from the digitized archives of The Load, the official student newspaper of Purchase College from 1972-1996. For more information, seek out the TiSPH Facebook page, or contact the author/curator: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Forty-Seven years ago this week, at an event on Wednesday, Oct. 25.
"The main speaker was thirty minutes late and the members of the female-dominated audience were restless and anxious, combing each doorway for a possible glimpse,” wrote The Load. “Girls whimpered and primped [when he finally arrived]; their male friends jokingly reached out to touch him, commenting on his height, his clothes, his hair; all buzzing excitedly until the mechanical hush before the introduction of…Mick Jagger? John Lindsay? Robert Redford? Actually…Geraldo Rivera, ABC Eyewitness News Team’s independent feature hound, on leave from the network due to political activities.”
In those days, Rivera was liberal. He became a Fox News correspondent two months after 9/11.
“During the two hour question and answer period that substituted for a speech,” reads The Load, “Geraldo explained his reasons for supporting [1972 Democratic presidential nominee Senator George] McGovern by condemning Nixon… Suddenly, the speech stopped; he shook his head and complained, ‘hey, I’m getting too heavy, why doesn’t someone ask me about my sex life?’ The audience response was immediate. Geraldo candidly reveals how he met his wife, tales of past promiscuity, his ideas on the institution of marriage. Girls coyly asked him up to their rooms. They giggled; he grinned. The audience loved him.”
This week in 1973 began on a sour note on Monday, Oct. 22, after a geodesic dome constructed by students on the Great Lawn collapsed during a storm.
“But it wasn’t destroyed,” wrote Pat Neale in The Load, “It was just another change, like the many changes [the dome] and its builders have been through. The interest in domes on this campus is widespread, and most interested people eventually took part in its construction…Hindsight is 20/20 vision. The dome has now fallen, and we’re left to wonder why. Nobody listened to the dome when it creaked in the wind…The materials salvaged from the wreckage are now occupying a room in Basement CCS. They’re still good. Someday it might go up again.”
Alas, it did not, but there is still time.
The front page of that week’s issue of The Load, published on Wednesday, Oct. 24, carried several headlines, listed in order of largest to smallest, which referenced the “Saturday Night Massacre” of that past weekend, a development of the Watergate scandal that precipitated the impeachment process against Richard Nixon, and the headline, which read “METS LOSE — AGNEW RESIGNS — COX FIRED; RICHARDSON QUITS — DANES TO LEAVE — KAPLAN LEFT (ON SABBATICAL) — Nixon Impeached?”
The following spring semester of 1974, Purchase students staged a May Day strike calling for Nixon’s impeachment, and marched on PepsiCo’s headquarters. Bobby Seale, leader of the Black Panther Party, and other members of the “Chicago Eight” would join them. 45 years later, many Purchase students await the impeachment of Donald Trump. Might history repeat itself?
On Tuesday, Oct. 21, 1975, the Purchase student newspaper published the first “comprehensive interview” with Abbott Kaplan, the founding president of the college, in which he “addressed himself to issues ranging from the future of Purchase to homosexuality on campus to his role as a college president.”
“I’m very optimistic in the long run about this school,” said Kaplan. “We’re having hard times, and I think they’re going to continue for a year or two, but I think our ideas are sound as to what a good education is. I don’t think we ought to dismantle it at this point because the going is a little rough.”
“Abbott Kaplan is one of the last of the optimists.”
In the coming days, the State University of New York Board of Trustees imposed a moratorium on the construction of all new SUNY buildings. Kaplan soon left Purchase, and the college began to scrap the pillars of its “experimental” design, such as the Freshmen Clusters, the Short Term, and a Pass/Fail grading scheme.
On Sunday, Oct. 26, the Load reported that “the first avowed homosexual to attain state office,” Elaine Noble, “a Democratic member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, spoke to a predominantly female audience at Purchase…Noble sees the patriarchal system in this country as fragile and close to crumbling… [but] predicted this country will get much worse before it gets better.”
Noble is 75 years old today.
On Wednesday, October 24th 1979, controversy erupted at a Student Senate meeting following the resignation of the Executive Vice President of the student government.
According to The Load, The Senate “came under sharp attack from Visual Arts student John Simmons… as being ‘undemocratic’… [because] Senate filled the $30 a month position by appointment rather than put it out for general election.
“‘I would like to ask the Senate one question,’ said Simmons, ‘What happened to the system called democracy?’”
The angry student, who had applied for the position, “also charged the Executive Committee had been influenced by rumors it had heard about him, but which it did not bring up during his interview. The rumors, which Simmons denies, allege that he once threatened a woman with a knife, and that on several occasions last year, made phone calls and charged them to his RA’s number.”
On Friday, October 24th 1980, a group calling itself the “Heterosexual Front” planned to throw a party in the “AB wing of the dormitories”—what is now called Big Haus.
“I said, as a joke, that the advertising posters would say ‘Heterosexual Front-Coming Out Party’; to me an obvious joke,” one of the organizers, Mitchell Shane, insisted. “A lot of people didn’t take them the way they were supposed to be.”
The Gay Union and others naturally took offense to the posters, and the Student Senate released a statement denouncing the party. It’s unclear if the event actually took place.
In the next issue of The Load, another student wrote a letter to the editor in response to the party planner.
“I couldn’t resist writing a comment on what I consider the most astonishing example of hypocrisy I’ve seen in this school so far,” read the letter. “The shock came from Mitchell Shane’s explanation of what the Heterosexual Front Party was supposedly all about. Last year, for example, when the Gay Union was extremely active and visible, I heard of many plans to create a Heterosexual Union to confront gays on campus, and I know that some of the plans were not jokes at all. Mr. Shane, however, doesn’t seem to be courageous enough to admit his own positions on the issue…He seems to be scared to admit the true homophobe he is. And not only that, he is also very irresponsible for trying to link his stupid party to the problems between the Black Experimental Theatre and the Student Senate.
"After all, is he becoming an oppressed minority also? On two different occasions, Mr. Shane tried to confront me publicly with very dirty comments about homosexuals. To Mr. Shane I would just like to say that the truly conscious and politically aware people on this campus know exactly what he’s up to. His letter was a futile and unsuccessful way to deny his closet fascism.”
After much delay, students were finally allowed to move into the “new apartments” (known as the Neu/Commons today) on Wednesday, Oct. 21, 1981.
The Load soon carried an article entitled, “New Apartments, New Problems Added to the Old Purchase Tradition.”
“Many students who moved into the new complex have had to deal with inadequate sanitation service, insufficient lighting, low water pressure, leaky sinks and toilets, unfinished living rooms and miniature mud-slides since October 21,” wrote The Load. “The most pervasive problem at the complex is the lack of an adequate sanitation service. The non-existence of garbage dumpsters has resulted in an overflow of garbage, luring skunks into the community”
As of Halloween, many were still without furniture.