Student Activism -- General Project Description & Selection Policy

In the 1960s and 70s, young people assumed a fundamental role in various grass roots movements sweeping the nation. They collectively sought to push for more honorable leadership, equal rights for all Americans, and a more responsible and moral foreign policy in Southeast Asia. This was a period in which Americans were increasingly unafraid to speak out, to criticize their government's behavior, and to demand a better name for themselves, in order to create a country that citizens can be proud of and thrive within.
The activist movement against the Vietnam War escalated rapidly during the pivotal year of 1968 and would remain strong into the early 1970s. Radical student groups drove the movement, particularly those of university age. While most would immediately identify both Berkeley and Columbia as the primal forces of these protests, an investigation into the activities of New York University students during these years can demonstrate a fearless, passionate commitment that could certainly rival those of the more recognized universities.

Within the New York University Archives, one can encounter the ferocious determination of NYU students within the anti-war movement, as they occupied buildings, held teach-ins, and protested the presence of individuals and organizations working contrary to their beliefs. The Photographic Records of Student Protests include scores of photographs collected during these crucial years, taken by student photographers, mainly those who were working for the university newspaper. The photographs alone speak volumes about the bitter tensions of these times, especially between student activists and the university administration.

The John G. Mason Papers, also housed within the University Archives, serve as a significant resource for anyone seeking to understand the motivations of the NYU students who participated in these protests, as well as a comprehension of the complex influence these events held on the university as a whole.

I look forward to creating an interesting and accessible online exhibit based upon the actions of these young people. In order to capture an in-depth and well-rounded perspective, I have chosen to only focus on one specific event driven by NYU student activists. When looking at the descriptions of the contents within the Mason Papers, I became aware that there was a considerable amount of material dealing with the Chi-Reston Incident of December 4, 1968. It was on this date that the UN Ambassador to South Vietnam, Nguyen Huu Chi, was scheduled to deliver a speech at Loeb Student Center. At the same time, the executive editor of the New York Times, James Reston, was to address alumni groups in another part of Loeb. These two individuals represented the essence of what student activists worked to tear down, and the confrontation between both parties would prove frightening for the speakers, liberating for the students, and humiliating for the NYU administration. The actions of the students would be harshly criticized within the pages of the New York Times and the Washington Square Journal, as all New Yorkers came to terms with their viewpoints on the event.

The Mason Papers include a variety of perspectives written on this specific event, including editorials from the mentioned newspapers, the documented responses of the administration, student editorials from the university paper, among other written accounts – including that of the collection’s coordinator, John G. Mason, who was temporarily suspended for his participation. There are also numerous relevant materials attributed to student organizations, particularly SDS, which include their publications, pamphlets, and meeting minutes.

There should be no copyright issues regarding the use of any material, which belongs to the University, namely the photographs and articles organized for the school newspaper. There should not be any additional conflict in using the papers of student organizations. On an individual basis, permission to digitize may be necessary for items that specifically belong to Mason, though my contact at the Archives does not expect significant difficulties.

I would like for my online exhibit to be accessible for individuals who have a basic working knowledge of the Vietnam War and perhaps the grass roots movements of the 1960s. I would be delighted to serve as a resource for secondary school students who may choose to look at this topic for academic projects. My greatest purpose is to effectively and accurately convey the spirit of these events, giving site visitors an authentic idea of what it was like to be a part of this controversial situation.

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