Mutiny in the Basement: The Power of the Satirical and Radical Student Published Voice

Duncan Rea Moore, History 250: The Historian Craft, Fall 2019

Reading the past, be it scribbled in a notebook or published in a highly edited newspaper, is how the bulk of historical research is done. Unfortunately, some important written sources have been ignored the historical study of college students at the University of Nebraska. The student-run official newspaper The Daily Nebraskan is used frequently as a representation of the attitudes and opinions of the student body, but it is far from the only existing glimpse into student life. Other student publications frequently appear over the university’s century and a half existence. Radical political papers demand reform and action from the school administration and even the United States Senate. Satirical papers try to capture the humor and culture of the young student body in a way that a formal newspaper never could. Having these alternate sources provide a more cohesive window into student’s lives and struggles, which, especially at a large public university like Nebraska U, is incredibly important to historically understanding the youth of America. While current historians don’t always take these sources seriously, the students writing them certainly did. They put their opinions and creative energy to paper and tried to save their work as a capsule of their voice. By looking at all of these sources, while using The Daily Nebraskan as a fall back, a better picture of student life at the University of Nebraska can be exposed.

On May 4th, 1970, a window was shattered, and the true power of the University of Nebraska students was shown for all to see. A group of students gathered at the local draft headquarters on tenth and O street in Lincoln, Nebraska to protest the draft.[1] In the resulting scramble, thirteen people were arrested. The next day, as students began to peacefully occupy the ROTC building, The Daily Nebraskan editor, Jim Pedersen, wrote an editorial titled “Take Positive Action.” Pedersen, and the rest of the student run newspaper’s staff, condemned the “violence” of the mild property damage at the draft office and the violence across the nation on college campuses. The Daily Nebraskan recommended letter writing and canvasing as a more workable outlet for student organization.[2] Five years earlier in January of 1965, far before the mass anti-war protests on college campuses began, a different Nebraska student paper, The Gadfly, ran with the front headline “We Shall Not Adjust.”[3] The Gadfly was independent of the oversight from University administration that governed The Daily Nebraskan and came down on a much harder line in support of student protests. The paper included sentences that sounded innately foreign to the likes of what The Daily Nebraskan was publishing at the time. Lines like “the administration can be blamed for a serious moral failing – cowardice” and “it is the student’s duty to dissent” frequently appear on The Gadfly’s pages. Independent alternative papers at the university are strong proof of a political reform movement among the students that had been building long before it truly showed itself in 1970.

The differences between the students at the University of Nebraska and the local Nebraskans was, and still is, astronomical. While young students began to champion causes like gender equality, and civil rights, Nebraska remained a deeply red state. Beginning in the 1970s, in direct response to the groundswell of student protests and calls for reform, the Board of Regents turned much more conservative and hostile to the students than they had been just a decade before. Early in 1970, after the ROTC building takeover in May, the Regents demanded and received the firing of professor Rozman, who had a minor role in supporting the protesting students. Rozman’s highly public case against the board and the faculty’s failed attempt to defend him displayed the lengths the Regents would go to in finding a punishment for the protest. Rozman’s firing also deeply enraged the students.[4] The new members of the Board of Regents, who were prominent local businessmen and politicians, began to directly interfere with student activities in a way that had never been done before. ASUN, the student council and governance group, organized conferences to talk about possible education and cultural reforms that directly went against the extremely conservative views of most of the new Board of Regents members. In addition, many of the old guard had recently retired or passed away, leaving few people in opposition to these new members.[5] The Board began to extremely tighten the University’s budget, even going so far as to make Nebraska’s star academic institution temporarily several million dollars short of operating costs.[6]

As mentioned before, the students were extremely angry and worried during this time. Student papers spawned in response. The Informant, a newsletter written by a group of activists, was looking to project the voice of the student reform movement and help at risk students who were being treated unfairly. The writers set up a house on 27th street that was supposed to act a switchboard for, among other things, food and cash help to fellow students in need. Their first issue’s headline reads “Regents Freak Out” in scrawled handwritten font and goes on to discuss the Regents move to demand the faculty “decide” a punishment for professor Rozman. The uncredited writer points out that the Regents didn’t leave room for no punishment to be delivered and hoped that the faculty would “show some self-respect in order to gain and maintain the respect of others, including the regents.[7] The Informant’s writers did not hide their viewpoints and viciously attacked the local authorities for “busting” many local houses that had reportedly been providing aid and shelter to activists, at risk persons, and possibly students. One article begins in its first paragraph with “The vice squad’s 19 long and short-haired informers have been causing the underground community some grief with a series of busts and raids.” The Informant goes on to argue that marijuana possession was not a justified reason for an arrest when the police and government are “jailing and beating Black Panthers, Viet Cong, Latin American patriots, peace demonstrators, etc.”[8]

This is not the professional and restrained journalistic language that The Daily Nebraskan used. The Informant headlines are in a handwritten sprawl. Typos are frequent. The writers of The Informant and The Gadfly are certainly not publishing opinions that all students at University of Nebraska-Lincoln held, but they still deeply matter. Inside the conservative hot bed of Nebraska there was a highly organized and dedicated student movement to fight against the traditional values that were whole heartedly accepted by the rest of the state. Bobby Kennedy came to Lincoln on his campaign tour in 1968 for a reason. The Gadfly in 1965 proves there was the spark of revolution and reform inside the student body and it demanded to be heard in an unbridled and true way. The activists and front-line protestors at Nebraska U throughout the late 60s and early 70s were clearly following the voices being published by these writers. The students at The Gadfly and The Informant weren’t just writers and artists, they were radical organizers and activists.

While the political publications of Nebraska’s students revealed their ability to push for dramatic reform and change, their satirical publications reveal more about their day-to-day lives. While The Daily Nebraskan, then just called The Nebraskan, in the 1940s ran stories about the war and what classes were being offered next semester, Corn Shucks, the student satire paper was full of pictures of rave parties and lewd jokes. It’s astonishing how much of the joke section is about sex, romance, or partying too much. One article of a 1948 issue titled “Women” boils down into the punchline being a wife encouraging her husband to sleep with other women for the fun of it all. A center spread in an issue from 1947 features the 15 large pictures of “The Most Luscious Legs on the Nebraska Campus” and encourages readers to vote which is the best.[9] A photograph section in that same issue depicts a “Gay nineties party” where them saying nineties means 1890s and they all have large top hats, suits, and a large jazz band plays in the corner. Among all the articles are mountains of print ads, a deeply demoralizing blow to the current editor of modern-day student satire paper, The DailyER, who can’t get a print ad to save their life. Even in the 40s college was dominated by alcohol, parties, and sex, an aspect of college life that, while admittedly is constant throughout most of time, is often forgotten about in common memory beyond the sixties and seventies.[10]

The cracks in all the fun, jokes, and parties begins to show when looking closer at the pictures. It doesn’t take long to notice there isn’t a single person of color anywhere in the photographs. The way women are treated rips the reader back into the time of publication and all the social progress fades away. One joke reads “Where does virgin wool come from? From the sheep that can run the fastest,” implying several sexist ideas about virginity and using a rape culture overtone for the punchline. In another issue of Corn Shucks the women contending to be “May Queen” are all drawn as horses and given derogatory racing names like “Sissy” and “Sad death.”[11] Another joke uses a racist punchline to make fun of a “Sultan” and his “Slave.”[12] Going further back in time, the problematic content becomes the norm. The Awgwan, the student satire paper that predated Corn Shucks, pictures “The Ideal University” where every student gets a waiter to deliver drinks to them in one of its 1913 issues. The waiter is drawn with black skin and with racist caricatures.[13]

The satirical side of student publications can show the lighter side of student life, but also reveal the deep-rooted prejudices that the students, satire or no, were obviously not immune to. Still, the satirical publications matter because they offer a much clearer window into real student atmosphere on campus than more edited and controlled publications. Lewd pages in Corn Shucks like the one ranking women’s legs with large prominent pictures clearly show that the higher ups in the administration were not being consulted when it came to the content of the paper. The students, regardless of what decade they went to The University of Nebraska in, weren’t professionals yet. They were just young people trying to figure out their live. They could make fun of other students, the administration, and teachers in a unique way because they were intrinsically the young voice. That voice isn’t found in the yearbook of The Daily Nebraskan.

While thousands of students occupied the ROTC building in May of 1970, a four-piece band played for the protestors.[14] They had fun, and while they were at it, they changed the university’s culture and its fundamental relationship with the state of Nebraska. Students changed university policy by being unfiltered, loud, and unrelenting. Alternative papers that are radical or satirical are a better way to understand that because it’s inherently more honest to the source material. While The Daily Nebraskan and other sources look at the student voice from mainly an outside or professional perspective, papers like The Informant speak from inside the student reform movement. Satirical papers like Corn Shucks speak from inside the student culture as the writers attempt to cater to a student audience. On every issue of Corn Shucks there lies at the bottom the proclamation that it is “Published For and About Students at Nebraska U.”[15] While an inside look might not always be the most flattering, as with the example of The Awgwan, it is important to see for better or worse. By reading these publications, and many others still left mostly untouched within The University of Nebraska-Lincoln Archives and Special Collections, students at this University can be seen as students, not journalists, jobseekers, or passive youth awaiting a fleeting chance at adulthood.

Endnotes

  1. Robert E. Knoll, Prairie University: A History of the University of Nebraska, p. 152, 1995, University of Nebraska Press and the Alumni Association of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln: Lincoln & London, copy from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Love Library, Call number: ARCH LD 3668 K66 1995
  2. Jim Pedersen, “Take Positive Action,” The Daily Nebraskan, May 5, 1970, University of Nebraska Archives and Special Collections website, link: https://nebnewspapers.unl.edu/lccn/sn96080312/
  3. The Gadfly, January 12, 1965, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Archives and Special Collections: Student Life, Student Publications, Collection Number: 38-01-29
  4. “Regents Freak Out,” The Informant, September 18, 1970, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Archives and Special Collections: Student Life, Student Publications, Collection Number: 38-01-36
  5. Knoll, Prairie University, p. 157
  6. Robert E. Knoll, Prairie University: A History of the University of Nebraska, 1995, University of Nebraska Press and the Alumni Association of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln: Lincoln & London
  7. The Informant, September 18, 1970
  8. The Informant, October 2, 1970
  9. Corn Shucks, November 1947, p. 10-11, The DailyER archive, Nebraska Union
  10. Corn Shucks, April 1948, The DailyER archive, Nebraska Union
  11. Corn Shucks, April 1948, p. 10-11
  12. Corn Shucks, April 1948, p. 5
  13. Awgwan, 1913, The DailyER archive, Nebraska Union
  14. Knoll, Prairie University, p. 162-163, image 104
  15. Corn Shucks, April 1948, November 1947, December 1947

 

Bibliography:

 

  1. Awgwan, 1913, The DailyER archive, Nebraska Union
  2. Corn Shucks, November 1947, p. 10-11, The DailyER archive, Nebraska Union
  3. Corn Shucks, April 1948, The DailyER archive, Nebraska Union
  4. Jim Pedersen, “Take Positive Action,” The Daily Nebraskan, May 5, 1970, University of Nebraska Archives and Special Collections website, link: https://nebnewspapers.unl.edu/lccn/sn96080312/
  5. The Gadfly, January 12, 1965, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Archives and Special Collections: Student Life, Student Publications, Collection Number: 38-01-29
  6. The Informant, September 18, 1970, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Archives and Special Collections: Student Life, Student Publications, Collection Number: 38-01-36
  7. The Informant, October 2, 1970, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Archives and Special Collections: Student Life, Student Publications, Collection Number: 38-01-36
  8. Robert E. Knoll, Prairie University: A History of the University of Nebraska, p. 152, 1995, University of Nebraska Press and the Alumni Association of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln: Lincoln & London, copy from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Love Library, Call number: ARCH LD 3668 K66 1995

 

Bibliography

  • Awgwan, 1913, The DailyER archive, Nebraska Union
  • Corn Shucks, November 1947, p. 10-11, The DailyER archive, Nebraska Union
  • Corn Shucks, April 1948, The DailyER archive, Nebraska Union
  • Jim Pedersen, “Take Positive Action,” The Daily Nebraskan, May 5, 1970, University of Nebraska Archives and Special Collections website, link: https://nebnewspapers.unl.edu/lccn/sn96080312/
  • The Gadfly, January 12, 1965, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Archives and Special Collections: Student Life, Student Publications, Collection Number: 38-01-29
  • The Informant, September 18, 1970, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Archives and Special Collections: Student Life, Student Publications, Collection Number: 38-01-36
  • The Informant, October 2, 1970, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Archives and Special Collections: Student Life, Student Publications, Collection Number: 38-01-36
  • Robert E. Knoll, Prairie University: A History of the University of Nebraska, p. 152, 1995, University of Nebraska Press and the Alumni Association of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln: Lincoln & London, copy from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Love Library, Call number: ARCH LD 3668 K66 1995
Mutiny in the Basement: The Power of the Satirical and Radical Student Published Voice