"Citadel of Apathy"?: Student Activism at UNL, September 1968-May 1969

Project Editor:Jillian Gotfredson, History 470: Digital History, Spring 2008

Active or Apathetic?

Lincoln, Nebraska: A Reflection of the Movement on a Different Scale
Public Displays of Activism: from protests to talk-ins
Hyde Park Forum
Students Unite: committees, groups, and unions
Who Protests?
What is Apathy?
National Context: a timeline of student activism on campuses
International Context: a timeline of student activism on campuses
Works Cited

Who Protests?

Why University of Nebraska Students May or May Not Have Been Apathetic

Characteristics of Activists as seen by Protest! Student Activism in America.

"Movement participants tend to be recruited from the most selective universities and colleges; the highest incidence of off-campus and on-campus protest activity has occurred at major state and private universities and prestigious liberal arts colleges" (Flacks, 135).

"Activists are disproportionately recruited from a particular social background: they are the sons and daughters of high-income families...children of blue-collar and lower white-collar workers [are] under-represented...[and] tend to have mothers...who are employed at high skill levels, rather than housewives. Movement participants come from urban and suburban environments rather than small towns." (Flack, 137).

"The typical activist family is quite secular...the great majority of activists have parents who have little or no active involvement in religious activity; in fact, a considerable number of parents profess no religious preference. On the other hand, a disproportionate number of activists are children of ministers, or have been highly active in religious denominations or groups which stress social concern (Flack, 138).

"The typical activists' parents are politically liberal; the proportion of activists who have 'converted' from a background of conservatism is quite small...All studies of student activists indicate that most of them are recruited from students whose parents are Democrats" (Flack, 139).

"'Schools with high admission standards had more protests' specifically, 37% of the protesting school's freshmen got an 1156 or above on their SAT and 42% of the protesting school's freshmen got 1008-1155" (Levine, 109).

"While activism was also intense on less selective universities, it tended to be initiated either by black students' grievances, or by strong faculty-administration conflict" (Flack, 135).

Do these characteristics describe the average University of Nebraska student in 1968-1969? Here's what some had to say:

A History professor, Dr. David Trask said, "We are not a first rate university, one of the first signs of a first class school is active student action" ("No power in...").

In a Daily Nebraskan poll of 50 students, most had no opinion on student power or didn't want to express it. One student said, "I don't want to say anything that might be printed" while others replied, "I don't think student power would be too great" or "we should have rules while we are in school. After all, we are here to be educated, not run the school for the administration." No student would voice an opinion that was "emphatically for or against student power" ("Student power--").

Dr. Alan Bates, chairman of the Sociology Department said, "Nebraska has several factors that contribute to campus conservatism" such as the student constituency (which consists mainly of students from Nebraska), definite regional conservative factors, and the fact that Lincoln is not a major metropolis (Jenkins).

One student said "I would throw myself in front of any building on this campus to prevent radical students from occupying it" ("Fretful prevails...").

"I never saw so many blond, blue-eyed people in my life. But they were refreshingly open, interested and tolerant, even if they didn't agree. We were an active, militant minority there, with more influence than we thought. There were some who openly opposed us, but very little of what you might call aggressive hostility. It was a good time, and a good place to organize." (Gotfredson).

Dr. Clark Kerr divides activists into three groups:

"1. THE ISSUE-BY-ISSUE PROTESTERS: these students accept the existing system but seek to correct its deficiencies of operation at specific points, sometimes through orderly protest, sometimes through stronger confrontation tactics"(Kerr, 8-9).

"2. THE LIBERAL-RADICALS: these students feel that the only answer to specific problems is a restructuring of the entire society along different lines, but they work toward this goal mainly through the traditional "liberal" techniques of organization, discussion, and persuasion rather than via more violent tactics. They are radical as to ends but mostly liberal as to means"(Kerr, 8-9).

"3. THE RADICAL-RADICALS: these students comprise the most dissident group on the student scene today. They believe they can eradicate current evils only be restructuring the entire society, and they are willing to use violent tactics if necessary to reach this goal. Thus they are radical as to both ends and means" (Kerr, 8-9).

Students at the University of Nebraska may have been more of the liberal-radical type as the issues to which they adhered themselves more often were of the radical type (discrimination in housing, the ROTC, etc.) while they sought to address them through liberal means (petitions, discussion, peaceful protests and sit-ins, etc.). The presence of the liberal-radical on campus may have been due to the environmental factors in their socialization (conservative climate, low levels of diversity, homes in rural and suburban areas, religious base, etc.).