By Donna Mo
Applause and finger snaps filled the hall at Corwin Pavilion as prominent actor and humanitarian Danny Glover told a UC Santa Barbara audience that we all must play our own roles in this world to do good for others.
“There’s no place where we are neutral. All of us are affected,” Glover urged.
Glover gave the keynote address at last weekend’s conference, “A Black Vision of Change.” The 3-day event marked the 50th anniversary of the 1968 North Hall Takeover and honored those who participated in the protest, in which 12 students barricaded themselves in a campus building to demand equal treatment for black students, as well as a more relevant curriculum for students of color.
The protest action led to the creation of the Department of Black Studies and the Center for Black Studies Research in 1969, as well as Chicano/a Studies. It also paved the way for the creation of Asian American Studies, Feminist Studies, and other minority studies on campus. Some of the 1968 student activists attended the conference: Tom Crenshaw, Stan Lee, Murad Rahman and Dalton Nezey.
“Those were four of the original 12 who occupied North Hall so that we remind ourselves that activism and commitment to change is something that we all need to do,” said Jeffrey Stewart, a Black Studies professor at UCSB who organized the event.
The conference featured panels on issues that sparked the student protest and what has happened since. Alexis Wright, a UCSB graduate, was on hand to discuss her role in a 2012 “Demands” team. The original 68ers — Crenshaw, Lee, Rahman, and Nezey — described the North Hall takeover, the state of black lives on campus in 1968 and why they felt the need to take action.
At the time, black students were a small minority and many felt their concerns were being ignored by the school. Black athletes had lodged complaints against the football team’s coaching staff, citing passive racism, mistreatment and preference for white athletes. The Black Student Union took these complaints to the administration, including the Intercollegiate Athletic Commission, but felt they were dismissed.
Eventually, frustrated students took matters in their own hands. On October 14, 1968 at 6 a.m., 12 students secured the computer centers in North Hall, locked themselves in and demanded that Chancellor Vernon Cheadle increase the enrollment of black students, end institutional racism on campus, and added minority studies to the school’s courses. Black student leaders outside the building made sure onlookers stayed informed.
As the day wore on, white students joined them outside North Hall to keep updated on the protest and form a human barrier to prevent police from storming the building. In the late afternoon, then-Chancellor Vernon Cheadle agreed to the students’ demand, effectively ending the takeover, 12 hours after it started.
At the conference, scholars such as Stanley Frencher of UCLA’s medical school, UCSB economist Trevor Logan, and UCSB sociologist Victor Rios, discussed the social standing of blacks in today’s America. Other panels touched on black women’s rights and the need for a Black Alumni Association. Enrollment data shows that Blacks/African Americans still make up only about 5 percent of the student population at UC Santa Barbara.
As recently as 2012, members of BSU formed a Demands team that drafted a statement to be delivered to the UCSB administration. These demands included recruiting black faculty for departments other than Black Studies, hiring two black full-time psychologists, creating a centerpiece honoring the 1968 North Hall Takeover to be displayed in North Hall, and creating a Black Alumni program.
“The 2012 Demands team went to the Chancellor and said that they wanted black students to be more than just the poster child of diversity,” said conference organizer Stewart. He scheduled the visiting 68er protesters with the Demands 2012 speaker “to show the continuity” of activism.
“There is a tradition of activism here that is sometimes not embraced publicly by UCSB,” Stewart said.
But it was Glover’s speech that sparked the most excitement among those at the conference. The actor spoke of his work as an activist helping the global south; of neoliberalism and its effects today’s society; on climate change, the global refugee crisis, and women’s rights.
“He really knew what the problems were. Like global warming, how it will affect the most disadvantaged people of the south,” said Angela Cantu, a third-year student who is in the Black Student Union.
Henry Brown, who graduated from UCSB in 1971, said it was important and praiseworthy that someone with Glover’s “knowledge and charisma” uses his celebrity platform to make a difference.
“His talk hit so many vital points. His grasp of what’s happened in the world is quite succinct. He’s traveled. He’s spoken with these people.” Brown said.
Those who attended the keynote address said Glover’s message about building community and relationships not only among black students, but also among Asians, Chicano/as and other marginalized groups, hit home.
Glover urged audience members to do their part in creating a better world. “It’s not simply your challenge. It’s all of ours,” he said.
Donna Mo is a fourth year Communication major and Theater minor. She is a Web and social Media intern with the Division of Humanities and Fine Arts.