Dissent at LMU (1970)

University administrations in the United States faced new challenges in the 1960s and 1970s, as they were forced to respond to a surge of student activism. Thousands of students held demonstrations on campuses across the nation in support of the anti-war and civil rights movements. Loyola Marymount University (LMU) functions as an important example of student engagement with these causes, both in terms of those who supported such social change and those who did not. The LMU administration’s response to demonstrations held on campus highlights the power students, faculty, and people of color utilized to further political movements that university administrators often viewed as uniquely intimidating and cause for restrictions of free speech. Thus, those who chose to protest took great personal risk when engaging in such expressions of dissent. Reverend Donald P. Merrifield and Sister Raymude McKay, presidents of Loyola University and Marymount College in 1970 respectively, wrote the policy regarding expressing dissent for the all members of the LMU campus including students, faculty, and staff. This statement was made public on October 6, 1970 and warned against inappropriate forms of protest with threat of suspension, expulsion, or arrest for violation of such policy. Merrifield and McKay released their statement four months after seven students, all of whom were students of color, were arrested at the Loyola Law for protests deemed disruptive by university administrators, some of their fellow students, and law enforcement.

University students became politically engaged and often openly defiant of federal and university policies through participation in demonstrations against the Vietnam war on college campuses across the nation. A study conducted by the Milwaukee Journal in 1968 concluded that 75 percent of college students supported organized demonstrations as “legitimate means of expressing” political dissent. For example, 712 students from Barnard College and Columbia University were arrested, many violently apprehended, by the New York Police Department for leading antiwar and anti-segregation protests on the Columbia University campus in 1968. Approximately 1100 students protested Columbia University’s direct support of the Vietnam war through the funding and staffing of the Pentagon Institute, which provided the federal government with information used to formulate strategies for battle. Others protested the construction of a new and potentially racially segregated gymnasium. Students temporarily occupied and shut down the campus. Though hundreds were arrested, the demonstrations were deemed successful: the university’s relationship with the Pentagon Institute was terminated; the construction of the new gymnasium was halted; students who engaged in the protests were not criminally charged; and the president of the Columbia University resigned. While many university administrators were the targets of protests, other faculty members avidly supported students’ expression of dissent. In fact, a professor at Harvard University taught students how to engage in methods of peaceful resistance on campus in the 1960s.

Students and faculty at LMU followed this course of war resistance efforts through the occupation of academic and administrative buildings, common spaces, and walkways. For example, in 1968 dozens of students at Loyola University and Marymount College gathered together in protest of the Vietnam War. Many students at LMU shared a common bond with other young people during the war who were drafted to serve in the military or those who witnessed their loved ones being forced to fight in a seemingly unwinnable and internationally devastating war. The horrors associated with the conflict in Vietnam were emphasized in the demonstration held on LMU’s campus in 1968. Specifically, students held signs that stated, “Babies are for loving not burning,” “Napalm adheres to the flesh,” and, “600,000 Civilian Dead.” These signs, along with the occupation of common spaces on campus, drew attention to the violence and trauma both American soldiers and Vietnamese civilians were subjected to as a result of a war that was viewed by many American citizens as purposeless and purely destructive.

1968: LMU students protested the Vietnam war in a demonstration on campus. (Department of Special Collections and Archives at Loyola Marymount University)

The statement on dissent written by Merrifield and McKay in 1970 was issued less than a year and a half after this protest as other demonstrations continued on LMU’s campus. The 1968 rally against the Vietnam war marked a drastic increase in both the frequency and intensity of students’ expressions of dissent. Subsequently, Merrifield and McKay released their statement indirectly referencing such protests and explained the limitations of the administration’s tolerance for “disruptions” of the “academic environment”. The letter regarding dissent warned students of the consequences for violating a loosely defined interpretation of inappropriate expressions of dissent. However, the letter did not explain what appropriate forms of protest would be tolerated on campus. Thus, the administration held great discretion regarding which students would be punished for particular methods and topics of protest. The way the university utilized this discretion became increasingly clear during other demonstrations on campus in the 1960s and 1970s when students of color and their white allies mobilized to protest systems of racism against undergraduate and law students at LMU and Loyola Law School.

Students extended the demands of the civil rights movement onto college campuses through the formation of organizations for students of color, the creation of official alliances between students of color and white allies, calls for university departments dedicated to the study and celebration of ethnic minorities such as Black Studies and Chicana(o) Studies, staging both campus-wide and individual protests, and obtaining publicity for their causes through a variety of means. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was a nationwide coalition of students of all races that became well-known in the 1960s for their use of civil disobedience as a means to draw publicity to the cause of civil rights for people of color. SNCC formed in April of 1960 at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina. Among other methods of resistance, SNCC frequently utilized sit-ins or coordinated violation of racial segregation in public spaces in which people of color and often their white allies would peacefully sit in restaurants, stores, and other “whites only” establishments for extended periods of time. People would throw food, dishes, and garbage at these protesters. Some people would even physically assault or spit on those who chose to take part in this form of rebellion. However, protesters remained calm and peaceful, which only emphasized the barbarian, dehumanizing, and illogical nature of segregation and racism. These sit-ins were extensively covered by news and media outlets, thus achieving SNCC’s goal of drawing attention to the violent reality of segregation and push for change.

SNCC was one of many organizations formed during the 1960s that called for the end of segregation and the establishment of equal rights. Black student unions emerged throughout college campuses across the nation including graduate school students and law school students. LMU’s Black Student Union (BSU) was formed in 1968. Soon after, the Non-White Student Alliance was formed among students of color at LMU. The United Mexican-American Students (UMAS) was also established in 1968 on the Loyola campus. On November 18, 1968 the Loyolan, LMU’s student newspaper, published a statement from the BSU which called for non-violent protests and a decision by LMU administration to either “continue its present course of irrelevancy, inadequacy, and evasion and be ready to accept the inevitable consequences of such inaction; or it will elect the alternative.” Though many students of color viewed the LMU administration as a major perpetrator of structural racism on campus, several white LMU students expressed feelings of hatred and discrimination toward people of color. For example, in a 1968 survey conducted by the Loyolan about students’ sentiments regarding protests on campus calling for racial equality, one student stated, “[Black students] should go back to Africa.” In the same poll, over 40 percent of students surveyed expressed negative, ambivalent, or apathetic feelings regarding the oppression of their peers of color. These tensions reached a boiling point on May 12, 1970 when Black, Latinx, and allied white students occupied the Development Building and Regents Center on campus at LMU. The demonstration was deemed disruptive by several members of the LMU administration.

This protest occurred less than five months before the “Statement on Dissent” was released by Merrifield and McKay, thus highlighting particular forms of protest that the LMU administration sought to prevent. In their statement on dissent McKay and Merrifield underscored their support for intellectual discussions about seemingly controversial issues, while expressing clear disapproval for activity that might interfere with the operation of campus and the learning environment of the university. Though Merrifield and McKay did not specify what they believed to be appropriate forms of protest, Merrifield sent a letter to faculty in 1969 regarding the incorporation of ethnic studies departments into LMU’s available curriculum. President Merrifield called for the study of “minority culture and race in the United States” and the creation of a program at LMU dedicated to such studies. In 1968, UMAS called for the creation of a Chicana(o) studies department at the university. This proposition was supported by Merrifield. Merrifield’s varying responses to student activism demonstrates the specific forms of protests and revolution that were interpreted as appropriate or palatable to authority figures. While students independently organizing and demanding what they deemed to be necessary for equality among races on campus was frequently condemned by administrators, formalized and regulated discussions of race were encouraged. The study of course material approved by the LMU administration and faculty regarding race and ethnic identity was considered to be a suitable form of liberation for students of color. However, demonstrations that were not formally approved by administrators, most of whom were white, were considered distracting and generally not in line with the values of the university. Such contrast between policies demonstrates how authority figures often supported activism to a limited extent so long as they maintained a degree of control over their subjects.

1968: Members of the Black Student Union and members of the United Mexican American Students frequently worked together to fight institutional racism on campus at LMU. (Department of Special Collections and Archives at Loyola Marymount University)
1969: Members of the United Mexican American Students or Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano/a de Loyola Marymount University congregate at a group meeting.

This desire to constrain the efforts of students of color by both administrators and fellow students in their pursuit of equality is also evident in the treatment of law school students of color. Specifically, in a meeting of the Loyola Law School Student Bar Association (SBA) on March 1, 1970, John Tennell, a first year law student at Loyola Law and a member of the Black American Law Student Association (BALSA), was in attendance and took the floor to present a request for $1200 necessary for BALSA to print and distribute “landlord tenant pamphlets” to people in lower income areas who may not have been familiar with their rights as tenants. The motion was rejected, but Tennell refused to sit down and continued to explain the importance of the pamphlets even after he was ruled out of order. Mason Rose, president of the SBA, had met with BALSA and CLSA (Chicano Law Student Association) previously and openly disapproved of the associations’ requests for additional funds. In fact, the Loyola Brief, Loyola Law School’s student paper, published an article written by Rose, in which he stated that minority students received a disproportionate amount of funds and attention from Loyola Law and the SBA. He claimed that focusing on the needs of students of color whom he referred to as “Blacks,” took resources away from white students. Rose expressed anger toward the Loyola Law for not discouraging BALSA members from requesting funds and participating in civil disobedience like Tennell. At the meeting on March 1, 1970, Rose called for the arrest of Tennell and six other students. Every student that was arrested was a member of BALSA or CLSA. Students at the meeting shouted words including, “pig,” “fascist,” and “racist” at Rose and other voting members of the student board. Dean Cavanaugh, a member of Loyola University’s faculty, also stepped out of the meeting supposedly in protest. Months before this incident occurred, Rose openly spoke out against a request by BALSA and CLSA to have a voting seat on the board of SBA as such a change would be a violation of the organization’s constitution, though he did not specify how exactly the addition would have infringed upon existing SBA policy.

This incident demonstrates the specific way in which LMU’s policy regarding dissent was utilized. Seven students of color were arrested for peacefully protesting at an SBA meeting due to their “disruptive” method of activism. Many administrators and students sought to limit the expression of dissent by students of color through claims of a disrupted learning atmosphere, as if the pursuit of equal rights for students of color came at a cost to the education of white students. Though many administrators and students claimed to support students of color, their encouragement was conditioned upon students of color refraining from criticizing or embarrassing their white counterparts in any way. Such deviance from an unspoken norm often resulted in profound consequences for students of color including precisely what McKay and Merrifield outlined in their statement on dissent, specifically, arrest.

Political protests by individual students and large organizations at LMU during the 1960s and 1970s demonstrate the limitations of university administrators in their responses to the expression of dissent by students and faculty. Administrators at LMU often supported forms of activism that could be regulated and monitored by staff, such as the establishment of a Chicana/o Studies department. However, other demonstrations that involved direct criticism of LMU and its various individual organizations were frequently condemned and met with punishments including the arrest of students who chose non-violent methods of protest that disparaged administrative and student bodies at LMU. The statement on dissent issued by McKay and Merrifield highlights this boundary. Specifically, claims that certain forms of protest were inappropriate due to their “disruptive” nature without defining the word “disruptive” or explaining what an appropriate form of protest may be demonstrates the way administrators both at LMU and other universities throughout the nation weaponized their ability to use discretion when choosing to condemn or support student activism.

Written by Taylor Knudson Frisco, History, LMU 2020

For Further Reading:

Primary Sources

“Attitudes on Race Relations,” Los Angeles Loyolan, November 11, 1968. Department of Archives and Special Collections, William H. Hannon Library, Loyola Marymount University.

Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana/o de Aztlán de Loyola Marymount University, “MECha at Loyola Marymount University,” 2020.

“Non-White Students Alliance in Lair Tuesday,” Los Angeles Loyolan, January 29, 1968. Department of Archives and Special Collections, William H. Hannon Library, Loyola Marymount University.

“Resume of Recent SBA Happenings,” Loyola Brief, March 1970. Department of Archives and Special Collections, William H. Hannon Library, Loyola Marymount University.

“SBA President Mason Rose Discusses Student Problems,” Loyola Brief, March 1970. Department of Archives and Special Collections, William H. Hannon Library, Loyola Marymount University.

“A Statement from the BSU,” Los Angeles Loyolan, November 18, 1968. Department of Archives and Special Collections, William H. Hannon Library, Loyola Marymount University.

“Statement on Dissent,” October 6, 1970. Department of Archives and Special Collections, William H. Hannon Library, Loyola Marymount University.

“Students Arrested for Disrupting Student Bar Meeting,” Loyola Brief, March 1, 1970. Department of Archives and Special Collections, William H. Hannon Library, Loyola Marymount University.

Secondary Sources

Carriere, Micheal. “Fighting the War against Blight: Columbia University, Morningside Heights, Inc., and Counterinsurgent Urban Renewal.” Journal of Planning History 10, no. 1 (February 2011): 5–29. doi:10.1177/1538513210392882.

Claybrook Jr. 2013. “Black Power, Black Students, and the Institutionalizing of Change: Loyola Marymount University, 1968-1978.” The Journal of Pan African Studies 5 (10): 1.

Levy, Daniel. “Behind the Protests Against the Vietnam War in 1968.” Time, 19 Jan. 2018, time./5106608/protest-1968/.

Stoper, Emily. “The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee: Rise and Fall of a Redemptive Organization.” Journal of Black Studies 8, no. 1 (September 1977): 13–34. doi:10.1177/002193477700800102.