Editor in Chief
Black and Gold Weekend is a special time of the year when alumni return to campus to relive their time as Wooster students, and this year’s homecoming marked the anniversary of one of the most consequential student movements in the College’s history.
2019 is the 30th anniversary of the Galpin Takeover of 1989 in which students took over Galpin Hall in response to the College’s lack of structural and administrative support for its black students.
Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer Dr. Ivonne García invited alumni Mark Pickett ’91 and Abdul Rashid ’93, former Wooster professor of black studies and political science Yvonne Williams, as well as deans, current and former students to speak on a panel to celebrate the anniversary of this pivotal event in the College’s history.
Not to be confused with 2018’s Galpin Call-in, the Takeover happened during the spring semester of the 1988-89 school year, in which four black students, including Pickett, broke into Galpin Hall one morning before any administrators arrived on campus for a day’s worth of work.
According to Williams, “It is the sit in by which all events and activities and events involving the black students on this campus have been measured since then, and it is the reason … I hope people continue to celebrate it.”
One of the main themes of Saturday’s panel was the idea of recounting one’s own history for future generations’ benefit.
“If you don’t curate your own history, there are a lot of people out here willing to tell it for you,” said Pickett.
A primary issue that led to the Takeover was a lack of discussion about the struggles black and other minority communities on campus faced. According to Pickett, there were many discussions that needed to be had on campus that were avoided, and students were getting fed up.
“For us … it was like, ‘I don’t want you to just give me an audience, I want you to hear me.’ Unless you have a means for someone to hear you, you’re not being heard,” said Pickett.
For the students that morning, protest was their means of being heard. “We were like, ‘We’re going to take this building, and we’re really going to have an audience then,’” said Pickett.
The students laid out eleven demands, five of which were the driving forces behind the students’ movement. They demanded the College:
1. Divest in companies with ties to South Africa
2. Provide a competitive salary for the Minority Admissions Counselor
3. Add a black counselor/psychologist to the counseling staff
4. Increase space for the Director of Black Student Affairs
5. Express administrative support of a black studies requirement
Only students in solidarity with the protestors were allowed into Galpin. Pickett and others locked the doors from the inside of the building, refusing to let any administrators or faculty in until their demands were not only heard, but acted upon.
“I went and got the chains cut to open those doors. I went in and locked those doors. When security came to the building around 5:30 in the morning, we had a conversation and that’s when things sparked off. We started calling everybody, and people started coming over and that’s when it became a big deal,” said Pickett.
“The thing that I so much appreciated about the ’89 sit-in was that it was student-planned, student-initiated and student-led. I didn’t even know about it until it was already happening,” said Williams.
It was this student action that inspired the Galpin Call-in in the spring semester of 2018, a sit-in which brought around 300 students to Galpin to protest the inadequacies of administrative support of minority groups. While the campus had graduated from avoiding tough conversations in 1989 to openly having them today, for students in 2018, conversations weren’t enough.
Aaron Roberson ’18, one of the student leaders of the Call-in, shared his perspective on the Call-in. “In our time, it wasn’t enough to just have a conversation. We needed some kind of action plan that we could see as students, and that other students could see and acknowledge as issues,” he said.
Although student-led movements are admirable, the panelists agreed that it can be very taxing on student protestors.
Pickett took a moment to express his thoughts on the difficulty of student-led protesting. “It takes away from your ability to focus on your studies,” he said. “You have to study, and you have to worry about this kind of stuff. It takes all kinds of energy to respond to these kinds of things. You have to be active to make the administration respond to these things.”
Associate Dean of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion Shadra Smith and Dean of Students Scott Brown acknowledged the failures of the administration which led to both the Takeover and the Call-in.
“The one thing that we always recognize is that what you’re doing is not easy … and regardless of what [administration] has been doing, somehow you’re hurting and you shouldn’t be,” said Smith.
Brown echoed this sentiment when he said, “Knowing what it took for members of our community to be so upset and moved to take on the additional emotional labor and work is a very significant thing to see from a student body you love. It was important for us — to see what it took for students to do something like this — it was important that we sit and listen.”
Progress has been made on campus in the time since the 1989 and 2018 protests. As a result of the ’89 Takeover, several things about the campus changed the following year. The biggest demand that was met was the College’s divestment in companies conducting business in South Africa, a huge win for students fighting against apartheid. Women of Images and Men of Harambee (MOH) were given house charters, guaranteeing a space for the organizations as long as they existed on campus.
Students and faculty came to a compromise on the demand for a Black Studies requirement, opting for cultural competency through the First Year Seminar (FYS) program. For the following five years, all first years took the same FYS course which addressed topics of race, gender and other cultural issues.
Rashid’s first year at the College marked the first academic year after the Takeover, and would test the effects the protest had on the campus climate.
“Once I got on campus, it was kind of like ‘Well what happened here,’ he said. “There was a little tension — it was a little tenuous on campus.”
Ultimately, however, MOH’s house charter made his time at Wooster one of the best times of his life. “It felt like my own little HBCU, so to speak, in that house” Rashid said.
Similar to the Takeover, spaces have been designated to multicultural and other affinity groups on campus, as a result of the Call-in, the College established a new graduation requirement on diversity, power and privilege starting with the class of 2023.
However, not all of the demands from both student movements were met, and the College still has a ways to go in making this campus an inclusive environment for all.
As President Sarah Bolton said in her opening statements, “Just like in 1866, just like in 1989 and just like in 2018, we have not arrived at the equitable and inclusive campus we need to be.” The College of Wooster has come a long way in 30 years, and we still have a long way to go.