The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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A look back at BSU’s fight for equal access to college 40 years ago

Black Student Union members took over the top floor of the administration building, holding 30 people hostage. They demanded that football coaches be fired and that there be no cutbacks to the Education Opportunity Program.

“Confusion. That is the main impression that must have been with anyone who roamed the darkened halls of the administration building?” wrote Frank del Olmo, a Daily Sundial staff reporter, who was inside the building when the takeover by the BSU occurred on Nov. 4, 1968.

The takeover of the building almost forty years ago was followed by months of protests and rallies that lead San Fernando Valley State College, now known as CSUN, to start the Pan-African Studies and the Chicana/o Studies departments.

An article in the Sundial on Oct. 31, 1968 states that the BSU wanted freshman football coach Don Markham fired after getting into a shoving match with George Boswell, one of the team’s African American players. The article shows that the incident took place two weeks after the football team lost a game to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

A meeting was schedule for Oct. 31 between the athletic officials and the students to discuss how the latter felt that the coach was “dehumanizing black people.” The meeting was rescheduled due to a miscommunication between the BSU and the athletic department, and it was rescheduled for the following Monday on Nov. 4.

That day was also the start of a two-day rally because of the U.S. presidential election that week. Students for a Democratic Society held the rally, said Marc Cooper, who was a freshman at Valley State at the time.

“The campus became one of the most politically active campuses,” Cooper said. “It was up there with Berkeley.”

Cooper, who was at the SDS rally, said they heard about what the BSU was doing while it was going on, and they all went to the administration building to support them. By the time they got there, BSU members already took over first floor, so the SDS took over the second floor, he said.

Valley State at the time did not have a large population of minority students. In 1968, about 80 African Americans and fewer Latinos were enrolled as students, Cooper said. He said the BSU had recently started at the time of the takeover.

The takeover of the building lasted about four hours, because the BSU students got the college president, Paul Blomgren, to sign a paper agreeing to their demands. The BSU students then left the building without being arrested. Part of the agreement on the list of demands was that none of the BSU students would be arrested or kicked out of school because of their actions.

The very next day, Blomgren took back the agreement he signed because he felt as though he was forced into signing the papers, an article written in the Sundial by Ralph Sanders on Nov. 5, 1968 shows. Arrest warrants were also issued for charges that ranged from kidnapping to minor misdemeanors.

“This is a community that wasn’t used to seeing so many minority students,” said Everto Ruiz, a Chicana/o studies professor at CSUN and former Valley State student. In 1968, Ruiz said the San Fernando Valley was the second-largest community of residents with Mexican ancestry.

Pacoima had a large African American population, said Bob Baker, former managing editor for the Sundial in 1968. Baker said it is “hard to look back and think about all the racial problems.”

Arrest warrants were issued for some of the BSU students. A few days later, those involved turned themselves in.

On Nov. 8, 23 students were arraigned at the Van Nuys Courthouse on charges such as conspiracy, kidnapping, burglary, robbery, assault and false imprisonment, an article written by Sue Brandt for the Sundial shows. Bail for some of the students ranged from $1,000 to $2,500. Faculty and students joined together to try and raise money for the bail, and rallies were put together a few days later in support of the BSU.

A Dec. 20, 1968 Sundial article shows that the Educational Policies Committee voted to start the Afro-American and Mexican-American Studies study programs.

Ruiz said that the following year he was hired to help counsel minority students along with BSU member Jerome Walker. A year and a half later, Ruiz said he was teaching in what is now the Department of Chicano/a Studies.

Jan. 9, 1969 would be a day during which the largest number of arrests occurred, 275, which included not only students, but faculty as well. Acting President of Valley State Delmar T. Oviatt, after whom the campus library was eventually named, declared the rally being held at the open forum on campus “an unlawful assembly,” an article written by Ron Chappell, staff reporter for the Sundial, shows.

Police arrested people they believed to be in charge as they spoke at the podium.

The campus was in a “state of emergency” and everything was to be shut down, the article shows. The peaceful rally was in support of a BSU rally that took place two days earlier, during 14 people were arrested and two were injured, a Jan. 9, 1968 Sundial article written by Chappell shows.

Ruiz said it was after this rally that things on campus started to change. He said he participated in these rallies to change things. “A change has taken place,” Ruiz said. “It’s a different Valley.”

Baker said he was thinking when all this was going on. “This is great,” Baker said. “This is amazing, news at it’s best.”

“We had the sensation that we were part of something,” Cooper said. Copper said he wishes students today had the same kind of experience. If he could, Cooper said he would do it all over again.

By the middle of February 1969, the BSU and the United-Mexican American Students came to an agreement with administration. One of the agreements was that the Afro-American and Mexican-American study programs allowed the student organizations to be involved in the development process. They also got the college to agree to recruit African American and Chicano counselors for the Counseling Center.

In the end, students served time in prison and some were dismissed from the college.

“There were things we could have done better, (but) it was also hostile times,” Cooper said. “This stuff was not a picnic. These were times where people were putting their freedoms on the line. (It was) not mild or moderate. It was radical.”

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