Conklin Hall takeover remembered: An event that forever changed a campus
Archived article from Feb 23, 2004
By Carla Capizzi
Today, the Newark campus of Rutgers is rated the nation’s most diverse national university campus. But during the 1960s Rutgers–Newark did not represent the population of its region.
That all began to change on Feb. 24, 1969, when the Black Organization of Students (BOS) occupied Conklin Hall to protest the scarcity of black students, black faculty and programs designed to provide access for economically disadvantaged students, and to demand changes, both on the Newark campus and within the entire university. The occupation lasted only 72 hours, but it helped trigger a chain of events that forever altered Rutgers. The event spawned major initiatives, such as the Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) and the Academic Foundations department, as well as new recruitment policies to increase the diversity of the student body and faculty.
On Feb. 24, the Newark campus community will commemorate the 35th anniversary of the takeover with the unveiling of a plaque. The program, which begins at 9:30 a.m. in Conklin Hall, will include reminiscences by individuals involved in the ’69 takeover, including former BOS member Joe Brown.
“Much of the discord of the 1960s arose from longstanding injustices, especially racial injustices, and the indifference by far too many Americans to the plight and the aspirations of the poor,” explains Clement Price, Board of Governors Distinguished Service Professor and professor of history. The students who occupied Conklin Hall,” says Price, “sought to draw attention to and challenge that indifference.”
Leslie Fishbein, an associate professor of American studies and Jewish studies, who teaches a course on the culture of the 1960s in New Brunswick, said issues raised on American campuses four decades ago led to the creation of African-American studies departments and women’s studies departments on campuses. “While the revolt looked out to the larger world, one of its results was to transform the nature of academic disciplines on campus and force the administration to deal with issues that had been considered too political to be central to the university curriculum. Now they’ve become normative in nearly every university curriculum.”
During the Conklin Hall ceremonies, campus officials will announce the James Ramsey Endowment Fund for EOF at Rutgers–Newark. Ramsey, considered the father of Newark’s Educational Opportunity Fund program, was its director from 1970 to 1983, when he became associate provost.
The endowment, to be administered through the Faculty of Arts and Sciences–Newark (FAS-N) aims to raise $250,000 by June 2005 to provide supplemental financial support to EOF students. “Many EOF students can’t afford to participate in the full range of college experiences, such as living on campus, studying abroad, or attending special seminars and workshops,” said Tia Sheree Gaynor, senior associate director of development, FAS–N.
A committee of individuals with strong links to the Newark campus will provide leadership by assisting with the fundraising efforts.
They include: Newark civic leader and journalist Gustav Heningburg; Richard Roper, founder of The Roper Group; Barbara Bell Coleman, chair of the Amelior Foundation; Vivian Sanks King, Esq., vice president, legal management, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey; and educator and author, Robert Curvin.
All but Heningburg are Rutgers alumni.