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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

A history of Carleton protests

In light of the recent occupation of Laird Hall by Carleton’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), discussions have come up about the college’s response to student protests. How has the college historically been involved in political protests? Current Carls may not be fully aware of the long history that the school has had with student protests.

Apartheid South Africa:

In 1989, a student group, Coalition for Responsible Investment (CRI) organized for the Carleton Board of Trustees to divest from South Africa, in order to put pressure on the apartheid state’s treatment of Black and non-white South Africans.

In one issue of the Carletonian, dated May 19, 1989, the editor in chief, Dan Broun ’90 wrote a brief message, titled “Now is the time to listen,” saying “Clearly, most if not all of the 60-odd students, faculty and staff at the Library Saturday believe strongly that the College is committing a moral abomination by retaining holdings in companies who are invested in South Africa. The commitment of the students is not in question.” The editor’s message detailed the way that Carleton’s political climate had shifted; everyone had an opinion on the matter, and despite being so vocal, no progress was made.

Indeed, this specific issue contained many articles detailing protest events and varying opinions, and even one article suggesting that graduating seniors take on a “Carleton Oath of Social Responsibility” (a play on the Hippocratic Oath). But the students, faculty and staff at the library referenced throughout much of the issue represented a similar situation to the one at Laird Hall this past weekend.

Around 50-80 student protesters held a sit/lie-in at the Gould Library on May 20, directly outside the room where the trustees were holding a meeting. The protest was met with a speech and letter of response by the President Steven Lewis, documented in the same issue.

In an article by then-news assistant William McGeveran ’92 documenting Lewis’ speech, he said that “The agenda of this College… is in danger of being hijacked — and I use that term advisedly — by a group of people who wish to get their item to the top of the list regardless of methods.”

In his speech and Carletonian letter, Lewis said “We must encourage free speech and dissent,” but that the “physical coercion” used in the sit/lie-in was against the College’s regulations. He also articulated that, despite having received numerous invitations to meet with the Board’s committee on South Africa related investments (SARI), only two students attended.

Some viewpoints criticized his response for its threat to the community and its hypocrisy, while others agreed, calling the movement for divestment “an idealistic daydream.”

Anti-Vietnam War:

Dated April 13, 1967, a Carletonian issue documented growth in anti-Vietnam War protests both at Carleton and across the country. As stated a news article titled “Colleges, Community March To Protest Vietnam War,” Carleton faculty and students were invited to gather outside Willis Hall and converge with St. Olaf and Northfielders in a rally. In the previous week, a statement against the war was signed by 26 Carleton faculty and 22 St. Olaf faculty.

According to an April 20, 1967 issue, the demonstration was not received very well. For example, “The VFW (Veteran of Foreign Wars) man, obviously not a Vet for Peace, expressed his disapproval of the demonstration, ‘because I am an American citizen.’ He implied that the demonstrators were ‘a bunch of people hiding behind college to keep from helping their country.’”

Others questioned the demonstration’s legitimacy, with one local businessman “believ[ing] in the right of dissent, but does not believe that a demonstration is a legitimate means of dissent.”

The then Vice-President William Dunham, said that “‘as a problem-solver, I have more respect for discussion than for demonstration.’”

A year later, in a May 14, 1970 issue, the front page of the Carletonian displayed three news articles about an extended strike and the general anti-war movement. 

In one article, “Community contact is an essential element in Carleton’s overall political movement.” In another article, on the emergence of new study groups about Southeast Asia,  history professor Alfred Soman was reported as saying, “‘The college has no function unless it is as an educational institution. If it has any political role it is as an educational institution.’” The article went on to say that “If people are going to be effective in convincing others about Indochina, they must be well-versed themselves.”

The study groups arose as alternatives to classes, as this was a school strike. Various members of campus spoke about the importance of continuing education amidst this strike, which is why study groups on the current events were created.

Notably, Carleton College administrators gave partial support to the strike. The third front-page article of this same issue reported, “At a hastily-called meeting on May 6, the faculty ratified a moderate proposal to allow students to withdraw from courses without credit or with only as much credit as has been earned to date.”

Negotiators at this meeting alluded to the college’s hope to graduate students “‘distinguished by their ability to make critical and independent judgments, by their desire to enhance their civilization with the works of their reason and their imagination, and by their will to challenge any threat to the freedom and dignity of man.’”


There was even a mention of a World War II protest. In the issue dated Feb. 28, 1934, with threats of another war looming in Europe, an organization known as the Carleton Peace Movement took form and sought cooperation with colleges across Minnesota.

In this issue, it cited the beginnings of this movement in a speech by Marvin Goldstein ’34, “[a]sserting that ‘human intelligence is superior to bayonets and bullets.’” Goldstein, a senior at the time of the issue, became the chair of the organization.

In the article, Goldstein said, “We are not only opposed to war, […] we believe that times of peace are times for working for peace. The causes of war must be met and solved. We have drawn up a temporary platform containing points which we consider essential in promoting that for which we stand.”

The movement held meetings in the chapel, open to the student body, and laid out seven points making up its temporary platform:

“1—We are opposed to war, in principle.

2—We believe in subjection to the sovereignty of an international legal system, i.e. the League of Nations.

3—We are in favor of a World Court.

4—We ask definite co-operation by the United States with other countries on economic problems.

5—We are for mutual disarmament.

6—We believe in government manufacture and control of the sale of munitions.

7—We will not co-operate with the government in aggressive warfare.”

An example of the call-to-action Goldstein argued for was pressuring representatives in Washington D.C. directly. He said, “‘If our representatives will not heed our demand to bring about national and international peace, we, having the power to vote, will use that power as a means of forcing them to act.”

The movement also spoke at statewide conferences on peace and sponsored a play in Little Nourse Theater about a man who was killed after disobeying the draft, as cited in an issue dated May 16, 1934.

When the war officially broke out, many op-eds were written in protest of the draft. In an issue dated Oct. 18, 1940, on the editorial page, one brief letter to the editor titled “Protest” stated that “The act of fascism has begun and already we hear in chapel defenses of conscription, defenses that extol militarism in one breath, and attack it in the next. We are to be civilians in a militaristic order, civilians that cannot even protest the act that destroys our civility. Yet this measure is condoned and passed over.”

On the same page, in another op-ed called “Draft be our destiny” Alan Hall ’41 wrote, “It means that 16,000,000 of our young men are signing away the lives, liberty and right to pursue happiness of all the rest of us. It means that 16,000,000 of our young men are taking a step which will help to insure the welfare of our democracy during our entire lifetime.”

In reverse chronological order, the archives of the Carletonian report a strong history of anti-war and pro-peace activism. The responses those demonstrations received and methods used reflect similar parallels that have been seen in recent months.

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About the Contributor
Cecilia Samadani
Cecilia Samadani, Features Editor
I'm an English major with interests in Creative Writing and Middle East Studies minors. I love all things related to art whether that be writing, drawing, music or dance, and am an avid cat person. Cecilia '26 (she/her) was previously a Staff Writer.

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