by Moss Robeson
The Purchase Phoenix is proud to announce our new regular column, This Week in SUNY Purchase History, a weekly installment brought to you by Moss Robeson, the creator of the Today in SUNY Purchase History (TiSPH) social media accounts. Unless otherwise specified, all images and 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 email Moss: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week in 1972, Purchase students published the first ever issue of The Load. It contained a few editorials, titled “MCGOVERN,” “LISTEN,” and “THINK.”
The first endorsed progressive Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern for President, only in part because “Nixon, in case you forgot, is the man who brought us the bombing of North Vietnam, the mining of Haiphong Harbor, inflation, unemployment, the attempt to censor the Pentagon Papers, secret talks, increased crime, and the Watergate incident. Quite an impressive list, isn’t it? Leftists must realize that America is not ready for a revolution, and that we must build the foundation now for future possibilities. Come down from your ivory towers. Stop dreaming of what will be and start working for what can become now…”
Another editorial explained to readers, “Get it straight right now that we could care less about how many typos there are on these pages and we are not interested in how many misspellings and grammatical errors you can find…”
As for the third: “Purchase, as a new school departing from some of America’s befouled traditions of education and living, should base its policies on aesthetics as well as economics… We should not eat plastic food on plastic plates with plastic knives and forks and plastic cups… We should not tear down the group of buildings remaining of the Chisholm Estate… We should consider the aesthetics of darkness before brightly lighting the entire campus. Before doing things, let’s think about what we really want done.”
A week after The Load published its first “comprehensive interview” with Abbott Kaplan, the founding president of the college, in which he said, “I’m very optimistic… We’re having hard times…[but] I don’t think we ought to dismantle it [Purchase College] at this point because the going is a little tough,” the SUNY Board of Trustees imposed a moratorium on the construction of all new SUNY buildings, and Kaplan faced a rebellion from film students.
On Wednesday, October 29th, the latter “decided to occupy President Kaplan’s office because they were frightened and frustrated… because the moratorium… meant that the Theatre Arts Instructional Facility was not going to be built in the near future.” According to “an instigator of the plan for occupation, ‘We’ve already tried the normal channels…’” The following day, Kaplan addressed 300 film students. “He attempted to ease student concern, but only succeeded in arousing it further,” reported The Load. “Some student reaction to the confrontation was vehement… said another, ‘the whole fucking school is going down the drain…’”
According to The Load in 1978, “Since its inception, the Halloween Party has proved to be the most consistently popular of all Purchase events, and this year was no exception. Hundreds of ghosts, goblins and transvestites arrived for the evening’s festivities…”
That year, the party was moved from the gym to the Butler building—home of the Design/Tech program before the latter was moved to Natural Sciences—what is today the Student Center. “The large turn-out was unusual for a Butler Building Party, but it was also disappointing to see so many people out of costume. More than half of the crowd was civilian, and even President Michael Hammond had come as himself, despite the hope in some quarters that he would recreate his role as Christopher Columbus…”
A short clip of the 1978 Halloween party can be found on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YWuIbuJr8ng.
40 years ago this week, “Two of the twenty Purchase students arrested during last semester’s occupation of the Administration [now: Admissions] building have reportedly chosen to take the issue to court and enter pleas of Not Guilty.”
Meanwhile, a former Senator, J.R., privately “confessed to stuffing the ballot box in last spring’s campus-wide activities fee referendum” with the acting president of the student government at the time of the incident, R.M. On Friday, November 2nd, J.R. “agreed…to say what he knew on the record if The Load could secure him amnesty from College officials.” In the coming days, R.M., now the vice president, “decided to resign his post…and confess to the ballot stuffing…” However, R.M. said that J.R., “before he announced his confession… offered to remain silent about the incident in return for $250 he claimed was owed him in rent.”
In this week in 1980’s issue of The Load, the lead story was: “College, Anxious for Growth, Drops Admissions Form Essays.” Eric Nagourney, today a copy editor for The New York Times, wrote the article. The student newspaper also reported on the efforts of the New Age Club to organize a paper recycling program on campus. “The club feels that by starting out concentrating on one specific material, it can gain administrative support by showing that a recycling program can work on the campus.”
The New Age Club began as “an off-shoot of the now-defunct campus chapter of SHAD [Sound-Hudson Against Atomic Development]… The former SHAD members wanted to expand the group’s goals and to broaden its membership. To this end, they modeled the New Age Club after the Westchester People’s Action Coalition, Inc. (WESPAC), to which some of the club members belong.” WESPAC is still going strong today; they even offer internships to Purchase students.
Also in the above mentioned issue of The Load was a letter to the editor, “Black Student Theatre and the Student Senate,” by V.F., the artistic director of the Black Experimental Theatre (BET)—a club created by black students who were frustrated with Purchase Experimental Theatre (PET). It is possible that Wesley Snipes was a member of BET during his time at SUNY Purchase. That summer, the student government had tried to force a merger of BET and PET in the name of fiscal responsibility, without informing either club.
V.F. began his letter, “BET congratulates the Black Students’ Association (BSA)”—Snipes being its president, what is now OAPIA—“for its support in BET’s demand for autonomy and funds. September’s phone-in was a success, regardless of… the President of the Student Senate [David]’s attempts to undermine our unified actions.” He went on to write, “I forgive David for trying to slanderize and obfuscate the issues related to BET in the last edition of The Load… First, he was wrong in trying to degrade me before the Black students. That tactic is almost cliche… Secondly, as a student leader, he needs to learn how to listen… otherwise we would not have had a phone in.”
V.F. signed off: “Did you make your call? You BET! Cheers to the BSA…continue to learn and grow.”
This week in 1981 was originally to be called “Abortion Rights Action Week” by the Purchase Women’s Union, but ultimately named “Pro-Choice Week.” It began Monday night with a forum in the old Humanities building, featuring speakers from the Coalition for Abortion Rights and Sterilization Abuse, Planned Parenthood, and the Religious Coalition for Free Choice. The day prior in the Humanities auditorium, BET performed “A Tribute to Malcolm X.”
“I write to you on a matter of the gravest concern,” began a letter by the (third) college president, Sheldon Grebstein, published in this week’s issue of the Purchase student newspaper. “It relates to The Load’s editorial policy and to a letter which was printed in a recent issue,” that is, “Housing Destroys Student Sculpture” by “Tom, Huck, and Becky,” which began by calling out “the conspiracy by certain school officials to make this campus as bland as their sex lives.”
“I read every issue of The Load, and usually with interest and illumination,” continued Grebstein. “Even such a ‘well-honed example of decaying capitalistic ugliness’ as myself can take pleasure in the vigorous use of metaphor, however zany its source… Yet [the letter] is written by cowards who lack the courage to sign their [real] names, in language that expresses the most abysmal vulgarity, with the sole purpose of personally humiliating its subject. I therefore despise the letter and its authors, and I am ashamed that we have such trash at Purchase…”
“Housing Destroys Student Sculpture” can be read in full on Instagram (@purchasehistory), and Grebstein’s response on Facebook (@sunypurchasehistory), posted October 13th and 27th, respectively.
This week in 1986, The Load featured an article about “The Case of the Skull” found on campus a few weeks prior when “a student, who will remain nameless until the case is solved, was walking by a brook and noticed… part of a skull, resting on a rock in the middle of the brook. It wasn’t much… The student, knowing a good mystery when she saw one, grabbed it and put it in a plastic bag…. She brought the palate to her apartment on J-street where she and her apartment mates hung it in the kitchen.”
A housemate of the student brought it to the author, “thinking The Load might be interested… we all wanted to know whether or not it was human.” A biology professor confirmed that it was. “Not only that, it appeared to have been burned and rodent bite marks were evident on the bone. Time for theories… I called Harrison Police. They blew me off and told me to call Public Safety,” predecessors of UPD. “The next day I took the skull to Public Safety, to a certain Lieutenant... a pleasant gray-haired man who understands writers because he aspires himself… He seemed excited about the case. ‘Boy, you really have a story here, Dave!’”
However, when Dave next spoke with the Lieutenant, he “shivered at the possible implications,” but also laughed, hoping the skull fragment was old enough to not warrant a major investigation. Laughing together on his way out of the policeman’s office, Dave wrote, “Outside I wanted to kick myself… There is nothing more disconcerting than a friendly Lieutenant.” The case remained unsolved at the time of publication.