The 1968 protests and campus activism today were the topics of a March 6, 2018, panel hosted by the Barnard Center for Research on Women (BCRW) in cooperation with the Barnard Archives and the Barnard College Class of 1971. The event, featuring four alumnae and one student, was part of the College’s commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the historic protests at Columbia.
Elizabeth Langer ’68, Nancy Biberman ’69, and Karla Spurlock-Evans ’71 (whose personal account of the 1968 protests is featured in the Fall 2016 issue of Barnard Magazine) participated in the occupation of Hamilton Hall at which many students were arrested. For current students and young alumnae, their stories were a reminder of the incredible power of activism during a time of historic national and global upheaval, in the age before social media and the internet.
Langer recalled the “electrifying” protests. “I heard the screams of students being taken away [by police officers].” When she was arrested, “I thought, ‘This is where I should be.’”
Biberman discussed the sexism of the male protest leaders, noting that she and the other women were “kept out of leadership [solely because we were women], even though we were also willing to put our lives on the line.”
Spurlock-Evans talked about the community-building among students of color that took place inside Hamilton Hall. After she was arrested and brought to the municipal jail in lower Manhattan known as “the Tombs,” she phoned her father, who said, “If my generation had taken care of business, you wouldn’t have had to be in that building.”
Current student Krish Bhatt ’18 and recent alumna DaMonique Ballou ’17 focused on what they viewed as the need to put women of color and others with non-dominant identities in the center of all activist work. “People of color have always had to be activists,” noted Bhatt, adding that “today we are creating spaces for people who were not previously prioritized.”
Ballou shared that she became politically aware and active as a sophomore after she had the chance to explore the archives of the Barnard Organization of Soul Sisters, the African American group also known as BOSS. She asked everyone at the event—especially those with privilege and power—to become better listeners. “I still believe we can do a lot more.”