Students may not know that when they walk through Bayramian Hall’s doors to pay their fees they are entering a building with a violent history.
“UNREST: Founding of the California State University, Northridge Chicana/Chicano Studies Department,” a student documentary which premieres today, shows how police beat up students in Bayramian Hall 37 years ago who were demanding that more Chicana/o and black students like them be admitted to the campus and that classes about their histories be instituted.
Created by Miguel Duran and other students, the documentary chronicles events during the 1968 fall semester that lead to the development of the Chicana/o Studies department at CSUN, which was then called San Fernando Valley State College.
Chicana/o studies professor Gerard Meraz said the film will commemorate the department’s history and the blood that was spilled to make it what it is today.
“I began organizing brown bag lunches on a Monday basis and a M.E.Ch.A. student asked how the department got started, and I realized that a lot of students really didn’t know the story,” Meraz said. “The class of ’68 was in the middle of a war.”
Duran said that this “war” started as a result of a CSUN football coach who had been overworking black players on his team, which did not leave them much time to keep up with their studies. When he kicked them off the team during a game, Black Student Union members demanded to know why he made this call.
When they were later told the coach could not be fired because he was a volunteer, 68 black and Chicano students took Bayramian Hall. In addition to the coach’s dismissal, they demanded that more students from their cultural backgrounds be offered admission to the campus and that their histories be taught in classes.
Delmar T. Oviatt refused to agree to the demands. Oviatt, after whom the CSUN library is named, was one of many people to serve as campus president in ’68.
“There was a lot of tension between administrators and the students, and as a result, there were many people who just didn’t want the job,” Duran said.
These demonstrators were arrested and sentenced to 25 years in prison for conspiracy and kidnapping, though these charges were later dropped.
Oviatt declared a state of emergency and 238 more students were arrested with faculty and community members at another demonstration in the free speech forum, which is the grassy knoll near the bookstore.
These protests also led to the formation of the Pan-African, Asian American, American Indian and Armenian Studies departments.
Martha Sanchez, a liberal studies major who helped with the film, said if it was not for these students, she might have felt “very discriminated” against at CSUN.
“Now we do face racial discrimination, but because of the class of ’69 we have brought (more) Chicanos to campus and they helped start the Chicano studies department,” Sanchez said. “This is a family. It makes me feel like I belong.”
Maria Elena Fernandez, who teaches the history of the Americas, said the relationship she has with students in classes she teaches are a bit formal. The film project allowed her to work closely with some of them outside of class, Fernandez said.
“We wanted to break away from (the practice of) faculty members only communicating with students in class and when they come in during office hours,” Fernandez said.
The documentary that will be shown today at 7:30 p.m. will be Duran’s first cut of the film, but it will again be edited before it is presented at festivals and on DVD.
“I’m looking forward to it, but I’m afraid that the people who watch it will fall asleep or might not like it,” said Duran, who worked on editing the film throughout the summer.
Toward the end of the documentary, the following question will be asked: “Did Chicana/o studies achieve its mission of having more Chicano students graduate from college?”
“I feel that it has because we have 4,500 Chicanos at CSUN, though not as much as we would have wanted as a result of things beyond our control,” Meraz said. “We have an incredible institution to grow on. We are very proud of the documentary.”
This event will be held at the University Student Union’s Sol Center at 6 p.m., and it will begin with musical performances by Conjunto Hueyopan and Cliche, a group formed by Chicana/o Studies professor Antonia Garcia-Orozco.