Being Black and Ivy: Student Organizing and Activism in the Ivy League, 1945–68

Sunday, January 7, 2018: 9:20 AM
Hampton Room (Omni Shoreham)
Stefan M. Bradley, Saint Louis University
Between 1945 and 1968, black student admission at the eight American Ivy League institutions increased exponentially. That did not, however, mean that black students felt included in the cultural and curricular life of their schools. Following the trajectory of the Black Freedom Movement, upon arriving to their campuses, they pressed against what they viewed as systemic American racism. As some black students underwent what psychologists call “nigrescence,” their philosophy regarding their presence at the institutions moved from integrationism to racial separatism. The campaigns of Black Power that took place across the nation directly affected what the students viewed as possible for their institutions. That led some to push for separate housing and affinity spaces; others pressured administrators to create autonomous Black Studies units. The ultimate goal of many students was to create more access and opportunity for black people in general. The methods they used to achieve their goals ranged from negotiation with administrators and trustees to building takeovers and strikes. They exercised their “Black Student Power” in using their student status and race to win victories for black people. Their presence and activism forever changed the Ivy League and higher education by forcing the institutions to consider the needs of black students. Eventually, their actions became models for current black student campaigns in the Ivy League. The struggle of black students in the Ivy League highlights the presence of Jim Crow and racism in the North and also shows the expanse of the Black Freedom Movement.