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Tracing Call-in’s origins to 1989 Takeover

The 1989 protest was inspired by the lack of response to a security officer’s racist comments suggesting that a black student be lynched

Desi LaPoole
A&E Editor

This year’s Galpin Call-in was an event that brought together representatives from many student organizations of Wooster’s campus. With planning still underway on many of the demands, it is important to remember the history of activism on campus and the College’s responses to student-led action.

It is no secret that the Call-in was inspired by the Galpin Takeover of 1989, in which black student organizers, angry with the lack of administrative response to combatting racism on campus, occupied Galpin Hall until their demands were met. The five demands that were drafted during the Takeover were the primary catalysts driving the student movement:

(1) Divesting from companies with ties to South Africa,

(2) Providing a competitive salary for the Minority Admission Counselor and a proposed Minority Financial Aid Advisor for black students,

(3) Adding a black counselor/psychologist to counseling staff,

(4) Increased space for the Director of Black Student Affairs,

(5) Administrative endorsement of a Black Studies requirement

As Ron Hustwit, a professor of philosophy at the College, recalled in an interview with a Voice reporter at the time, “My general impression of the Galpin Takeover was that it was a dramatic episode that pushed things along faster than they would’ve gone otherwise. I mean, looking back on it, you can date it; you can say, ‘here’s an event that was something of a watershed moment.’”

The demands of the Galpin Takeover were meant to address racism on the College’s campus through a number of different methods, most importantly through a Black Studies requirement for all students of the College.

While the College did meet some of the demands students created, such as divesting from South African companies and making efforts to increase black faculty members, the Black Studies requirement was, and still remains, an unfulfilled demand of the Takeover.

The push for a Black Studies requirement was not new to the College when the Takeover happened. Racist incidents that precipitated the Takeover raised support for a Black Studies requirement. In Sept. 1988, President Henry Copeland revised the judicial board’s decision of punishment for a white student found guilty of committing a racist act. The following semester, a black student found a note attached to his mailbox with racial epithets and threats on his life. The event that caused the most outrage, however, was perpetrated by a College security officer.

The Voice reported in its March 24, 1989 issue that a letter sent to the Board of Trustees petitioned the College to investigate a security officer who reportedly said that a black student “should be lynched.”

In the letter, submitted on March 20 of that same year by the Men of Dream House, an interracial men’s program house, and Men of Harambee sent to Stanley Gault, the president of the Board of Trustees, they claimed, “While in the course of investigating incidents of violence which occurred at an intramural basketball game between a team of black students and a team of white students, a College of Wooster security officer made a verbal threat … in the form of inflammatory language insinuating that a black student be lynched.”

According to the Voice’s report, at the time the letter was submitted, the administration had not yet completed their preliminary investigation, which happened on Feb. 19, a full month after the incident occurred. Black students specifically were angry not only that the investigation had not yet been completed, but that the security officer was still employed by the College.

Hustwit explains, “It wasn’t handled immediately, and there was a general festering of this unsolved issue. [The students] were bringing up grievances and academic concerns, and all of that started to go up in the general climate of the place.”

It seemed as if the College simply wanted to appease students that progress was being made through Copeland’s attempted reassurance with an ongoing investigation until tensions subsided and students forgot about the issue. However, some students did not want to wait for their frustrations to fade.

Joe Kennedy, one of the organizers of the Takeover, expressed his views in the Voice through a letter to the editor addressed to President Henry Copeland, president of the College from 1977-95. “As you should be well aware by now, racial and sexual harassment are not new at The College of Wooster, what is more troubling, though, is that when such incidents occur and are brought to the attention of the campus, there appears to be little substantive interest on the part of your administration.”

The basketball incident sparked a drive among black students at the College to take action themselves. On April 1, two weeks before the Takeover, students gathered in Lowry Center to march against racism on the College’s campus. Some 200 to 300 people attended the march to express solidarity and motivation to improve black student life on campus.

Copeland met with the students in Lowry to discuss their concerns, which primarily centered around a Black Studies requirement.

Melford Ferguson, president of the Black Student Association, explained the importance of the Black Studies requirement in a letter to the editor addressed to the Voice. He stated, “The main objective of this college is to provide a quality education to a diverse population of students,” and goes on to say, “This concept of diversity will never be properly executed until all students, faculty members and administrators learn some respect for the African American. This can only happen through education, and my experiences show the importance of requiring one course of Black Studies for every individual at this institution of higher learning,” (March 24, 1989).

As reported in the Voice (April 7, 1989), although the majority of students attending the march agreed with having a Black Studies requirement, “Copeland said that he personally was not” in agreement.

At this time, black students already felt that the administration did not prioritize their needs and concerns. Copeland’s public rejection of a Black Studies requirement showed students that a march of up to 300 people would not be enough to express to the administration that students were tired of waiting for progress.

After one final attempt at prompting administrative progress, students walked into Galpin Hall on April 20 at 6:15 a.m. and prepared to stay until their demands were met.

While the administration did meet some of the demands the students set, they did not comply with the Black Studies requirement fully. Rather than endorsing a Black Studies requirement for all students, all First Year Seminars (FYS) would address topics of race, gender and other cultural issues for the next five years.

According to Nancy Grace, a professor of English and then junior professor at the time, the primary concern with implementing a Black Studies requirement was “if the responsibility would fall on a small minority of faculty,” the faculty within the small Black Studies department. In theory, the FYS model would spread the responsibility of teaching racial issues to all of the faculty regardless of discipline; however, in its application, it had its issues.

The semester following the Takeover, some of the demands that were met were already coming to fruition through committees of students and faculty. As reported in the Voice, Mark Pickett, a student organizer of the Takeover, stated, “On certain issues, the administration has done a very good job … the only problem I have with what went on last year was the approach to the black studies requirement,” which seemed to be an issue with the faculty rather the administration (Nov. 3, 1989).

“In my opinion, it was in some ways not very effective,” Grace explained. “I think when you teach this kind of topic, the training has to be very deep, broad and it has to be ongoing; it can’t be a couple workshops. That seminar would’ve been more successful if we hadn’t just assumed that we could bring in an expert with a few tips and think we were ready to do this incredibly difficult work.”

Now, in the wake of the Galpin Call-in, the question for the College is, and has been since 1989, what is the College’s commitment to providing a quality, diverse and truly liberal education for all members of The College of Wooster?

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