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Activism at The New School oral history program

 Collection
Identifier: NS-07-01-04

Overview

The Activism at The New School oral history program, initiated in 2019, documents touchstone moments of activism on The New School’s campus from the perspective of students, faculty, and staff who participated in these movements. The program focuses on the past fifty years of activism at The New School. As of April 2020, interviews have been conducted with activists from the late 1960s/early 1970s anti-Vietnam War movement, members of the 1996-1997 Mobilization for Real Diversity, Democracy, and Economic Justice at The New School, and with a student participant in various campus protests in the 2000s-2010s, including those against New School President Bob Kerrey and Occupy Wall Street.

Dates

  • 2019 - 2020

Creator

Access Restrictions

Collection is open for research use. Digital transcripts (PDF file format) for each interview are also available for research use. Please contact archivist@newschool.edu for appointment.

Use Restrictions

To publish or post in any public form all or part of a recording or transcription from this collection, permission must be obtained in writing from the New School Archives and Special Collections. Please contact: archivist@newschool.edu.

Historical Note

The New School for Social Research was founded in 1919 as an institution of higher education devoted to adult learning. In 1933, the New School for Social Research established the Graduate Faculty of Political and Social Science. Over time, new schools and divisions were created and incorporated into The New School, among them the Parsons School of Design in 1970 and an undergraduate program now known as Eugene Lang College, formally established in 1985. In 2005, the Graduate Faculty took on the name of the founding division and became The New School for Social Research. The division dedicated to adult education is, as of 2019, part of the Schools of Public Engagement. As of 2015, The New School refers to the overall university, which has five divisions: The New School for Social Research (formerly the Graduate Faculty), The Schools of Public Engagement, Parsons School of Design, College of Performing Arts, and Eugene Lang College.

In May of 1970, students at the Graduate Faculty organized a strike to protest the expansion of the United States war against Vietnam into Cambodia. Many of these students were active members of The New School's Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) chapter and had participated in anti-war protests on and off-campus. These were the demands of the students, as outlined in a flier for the 1970 strike:

We strike The New School in solidarity with the National University Strike and its three national demands: an end to the war in Asia; an end to the oppression and murders at home; an end to the prostitution of the universities in the service of these wars. In particular we demand removal of Ellsworth Bunker, Nixon ambassador and advisor on invasions, as an honorary New School trustee. [1]

The New School's president at the time, John R. Everett, and many faculty members initially expressed support for the strikers, but when the strike expanded to include an occupation of The New School's Graduate Faculty building at 65 Fifth Avenue, that support waned. On May 17, 1970 President Everett obtained a court injunction to remove students from the building and on May 25 Everett brought the police in to remove protesters who remained in the building.

The same building would again be occupied by activists at The New School in 1997 as part of the Mobilization for Real Diversity, Democracy, and Economic Justice. The Mobilization (sometimes referred to as "the Mobe") was a coalition of activists at The New School fighting for diversity and equity at the university. The Mobilization began in 1996 with student outcry over The New School's decision not to offer a popular professor, M. Jacqui Alexander, a contract extension. Alexander is an Afro-Carribbean, feminist scholar who was a member of the Graduate Faculty from 1994-1997. Her teachings on gender, sexuality, race, and class inspired many of the students who started the Mobilization. The students and faculty in the Mobilization engaged in an intersectional critique of The New School, arguing that the struggles of people of color, women, and members of the LGBTQ community at the university were linked. They demanded pay equity, wage increases for security guards, a more diverse curriculum, and the hiring and retention of more faculty of color, including Alexander. The Mobilization held numerous protests throughout the 1996-1997 academic year, including an occupation of the Graduate Faculty building. Their movement culminated in a hunger strike by students and faculty that lasted over two weeks. M. Jacqui Alexander and many other leaders in the Mobilization did not return for the 1997 school year.

On December 18, 2008, student protestors occupied 65 Fifth Avenue for at least the third time in its history. The occupation was the culmination of a series of protests demanding the resignation of New School President Bob Kerrey, Executive Vice President James Murtha, and board of trustees member Robert Millard, who at the time was also chairman of the executive committee of L-3 Communications, a military contractor involved in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The students were also concerned about the forthcoming demolition of the building that at the time occupied 65 Fifth Avenue, the Graduate Faculty Center, to make way for the University Center building, and sought greater transparency about university investments and spending. The occupation, which lasted from December 18-19, ended after President Kerrey agreed to four student demands: amnesty for the student occupiers, a democratic process for selecting a new provost; the creation of the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility; and the replacement of student spaces lost in the demolition of 65 Fifth Avenue. Despite faculty votes of no-confidence in President Kerrey that same month, he remained in his post. The following semester, a group of students again occupied 65 Fifth Avenue in protest of President Kerrey's ongoing leadership. Kerrey called the police, and the students were arrested. Accusations of police brutality, including the use of pepper spray against the students, led many in The New School community to condemn Kerrey's decision to call in the police. Shortly thereafter, Kerrey announced he planned to step down from his position at the end of his contract in the summer of 2011. David Van Zandt succeeded him as president of the university. 

[1] Student strike flier, 1970, John Everett records, NS.01.01.02, unprocessed collection, New School Archives, New York, New York

Sources:

Baker, Javier C. and Al Baker. "New School Occupation, Round 2, Ends Quickly" New York Times, Apr 11, 2009, https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/2009/04/11/nyregion/11protest.html

Moynihan, Colin and Marc Santora. "New School Students End Dining Hall Sit-In," New York Times, December 19, 2007, https://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/12/19/new-school-students-end-dining-hall-sit-in/?searchResultPosition=1

The New School Radical Student Union blog, 2008. http://radicalstudentunion.blogspot.com/

Biographical Note

Interviewer Biography

Anna Robinson-Sweet
Anna Robinson-Sweet (b. 1988) is an archivist at The New School Archives and Special Collections. Prior to joining The New School Archives in 2018, Robinson-Sweet worked at the Weeksville Heritage Center in Brooklyn and the Whitney Museum of American Art. Robinson-Sweet has also worked as a community and union organizer, and continues to be an activist in the prison and police abolition movement. She holds an MLIS from Simmons University and a BA in art from Yale University.

Extent

6.05 Gigabytes (6 digital audio files; 8:28:34 duration; 6 PDF transcripts)

Language of Materials

English

Scope and Content of Collection

The Activism at The New School oral history program documents touchstone moments of activism on The New School’s campus from the perspective of students, faculty, and staff who participated in these movements. The program focuses on the past fifty years of student activism at The New School. As of August 2019, interviews have been conducted with activists from the late 1960s/early 1970s anti-Vietnam War movement, and with members of the 1996-1997 Mobilization for Real Diversity, Democracy, and Economic Justice at The New School.

This oral history program was initiated in 2019 to fill in the gaps in documentation held by The New School Archives on campus protest. The New School is known for its progressive politics and culture of dissent, and while this history is amply represented in The New School Archives from the perspective of the school's administration, the Archives has relatively sparse documentation of campus activism from the student perspective. The Activism at The New School oral history program seeks to fill this gap in the Archives’ collections while focusing on the personal experiences of those who experienced and took part in activism at The New School.

Narrators who participated in the 1970 student occupation of the Graduate Faculty building in protest of the Vietnam War were identified through research conducted by Anna Robinson-Sweet in The New School Archives. Their names were found in a few sources: the injunction obtained by The New School administration against student protestors, who are named as defendents in this document (from the Central Administration Collection, NS.01.01.05); a petition from anthropology students supporting the protestors submitted to the court as part of this same case (from the John R. Everett papers, NA.0017.01); and the student newspaper Granpa (part of the New School periodicals collection, NS.05.06.01.)

Outreach to alumni and former faculty who participated in the 1996-1997 Mobilization for Real Diversity, Democracy, and Economic Justice was facilitated by Judy Pryor-Ramirez, Executive Director of Social Movements + Innovation at the Milano School of Policy, Management, and Environment.

Chris Crews, a student activist from 2008-2019, was known to archivists at The New School Archives as a researcher. In 2019, Crews donated a collection of audiovisual material he had produced during his years as a student activist. The archives followed up this donation with a request to conduct an oral history with Crews.

The Activism at The New School oral history program is ongoing. The program will hopefully go on to include interviews with students active in the unionization of graduate students in 2018 and with students who occupied The New School cafeteria that same year in protest of cafeteria worker layoffs.

Organization and Arrangement

Interviews are arranged alphabetically by name of interviewee.

Other Finding Aids

For selected item-level description and images from the Activism at The New School oral history program, see The New School Archives Digital Collections at http://digitalarchives.library.newschool.edu/index.php/Detail/collections/NS070104

Immediate Source of Acquisition

All interviews were conducted by Anna Robinson-Sweet, archivist at The New School Archives and Special Collections using equipment provided by the Archives, and files were accessioned immediately upon download.

Existence and Location of Copies

Original WAV files have been converted to MP3 files for patron access. The New School Archives and Special Collections also commissioned transcripts of the recordings, available as PDF files.

Related Materials

The New School Archives holds the papers of alumni Mark Schmidt (NA.0020) and Jo Townson (NA.0021), which include videos, ephemera, and records from the Mobilization; oral histories with staff and administrators at The New School discussing their experiences during the Mobilization are part of the Independent Study Oral History Project on New School History (NS.07.01.02); and fliers and posters from the Mobilization are part of the Carmen Hendershott Collection of New School ephemera (NS.05.04.02). The New School Archives also has the records and papers of former New School President John Everett (NS.01.01.02 and NA.0017.01), which contains files on the 1970 student strike and other activism at The New School in the 1960s and 1970s; and The New School periodicals collection (NS.05.06.01), which includes issues of the 1960s leftist student newspaper Granpa. Student activism during the 2010s is also documented in The New You Peer Health Advocates oral history project (NS.07.01.05), which contains interviews with students who participated in organizing for a dedicated space for students of color on campus, members of the Title IX taskforce, and staff who helped start the Opioid Overdose Prevention Program and food pantry at The New School.
Title
Guide to the Activism at The New School oral history program
Status
Completed
Author
Anna Robinson-Sweet
Date
September 6, 2019
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin
Language of description note
English

Revision Statements

  • May 13, 2020: New School Archives staff added one additional interview and updated collection-level accordingly.