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Jo Townson collection of Mobilization papers

Identifier: NA-0021-01


This collection consists of material created and assembled by New School alumna Jo Townson in the course of her activism with the Mobilization for Real Diversity, Democracy, and Economic Justice in the mid-1990s. The Mobilization was a student-led protest movement at The New School during the 1996-1997 academic year. The materials include Mobilization fliers, pamphlets, and meeting notes, as well as material collected by the Mobilization.

This material includes papers from the Graduate Faculty Student Union and university records pertaining to diversity and affirmative action. Some files are restricted. Please email for details.


  • 1987 - 1997



0.7 Cubic Feet (2 boxes, 1 folder)

Language of Materials


Scope and Contents

This collection is made up of material produced or assembled by Jo Townson in the course of her student activism as a member of the Mobilization for Real Diversity, Democracy, and Economic Justice. The series on the Mobilization includes material produced by the group, including fliers and educational material, statements of demands issued to The New School administration, notes from strategy meetings, letters of support from faculty at other universities, and internal communications. Taken together, this documentation offers insight into the goals and tactics of a significant activist movement at The New School.

The first and third series consist of material presumably collected by the Mobilization for research and/or strategy purposes. The first series documents the efforts of the Graduate Faculty Student Union (GFSU) from 1987-1993. Many of the papers in this series are authored or assembled by Perry Chang, who was a student in the Graduate Faculty's sociology department from the late 1980s-1990s. This material documents GFSU campaigns for financial aid, funding for student organizations, and student input in the hiring of administrators. Some papers discuss diversity and sexual harassment issues on campus.

The third series consists of records from New School administrative offices and committees, primarily related to diversity and affirmative action efforts on campus in the late 1980s through 1996, the year the Mobilization began. Among these are records from Elizabeth Bewer, who served as assistant dean of student affairs in the Graduate Faculty. These records primarily include memoranda to other New School administrators regarding student enrollment, retention, and funding in the Graduate Faculty. It is unknown how these records came to be in the possession of the Mobilization. Other records in this series include meeting agendas, minutes, and reports from various committees and initiatives for diversity at The New School. Of particular note is the "Report of the Committee on Diversity, Harassment, and Freedom of Expression," also known as the Bernstein Committee Report. This committee, chaired by Professor Richard Bernstein, was charged by President Jonathan Fanton with recommending policies to the Board of Trustees. The file on the report includes communications from President Fanton regarding the committee, the report itself, and responses to the report from administrators and faculty.

In its entirety, this collection offers rich textual documentation of student activism at The New School in the 1980s and 1990s, and the evolution of discussions surrounding diversity and equity during those years.

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research use. Files containing student records are restricted for 75 years from the latest date of creation in the file. Please contact for appointment.

Conditions Governing Use

To publish images of material from this collection, permission must be obtained in writing from The New School Archives and Special Collections. Please contact:

Biographical Note

Jo Townson is a public health consultant and alumna of Eugene Lang College. She graduated from Lang in 1997 with a BA in urban studies and cultural studies and has an MS from the Education and Online Teaching and Learning program at California State University, East Bay. Townson grew up in the Bay Area of California and moved to New York in the early 1990s. While a student at Lang, Townson was involved in the Mobilization, a student-led protest calling for economic justice and diversity at the university. Following her studies at Lang, Townson worked at Clio Visualizing History, an educational organization dedicated to public history. Thereafter, she returned to California, taking a position at the James Redford Institute for Transplant Awareness, a not-for-profit focused on creating awareness around organ donation. Subsequently, she has held a variety of positions in public health. As of 2019, Townson is a senior consultant in Clinical Education at Kaiser Permanente; she lives in Oakland, California with her family.

Historical Note

The Mobilization for Real Diversity, Democracy, and Economic Justice was a student-led protest movement at The New School during the 1996-1997 academic year. The Mobilization (sometimes referred to as "the Mobe") was a coalition that fought 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.

The Graduate Faculty, often referred to as the GF, is a division of The New School now known as The New School for Social Research, and encompasses graduate degree programs in the social sciences. The former Graduate Faculty building at 65 Fifth Avenue was demolished in 2009 to make way for the construction of the University Center building. Eugene Lang College is an undergraduate division of The New School. Students, faculty, and staff from the Graduate Faculty, Lang, and the other divisions of The New School participated in the Mobilization.


Arranged alphabetically in three series: 1. Graduate Faculty Student Union, 1987-1993 2. Mobilization for Real Diversity, Democracy, and Economic Justice, 1992-1997 3. University records related to diversity, 1990-1996

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The collection was donated to The New School Archives and Special Collections by Jo Townson in 2019.

Related Materials

The New School Archives holds oral history interviews with Jo Townson and Amit Rai, another participant in the Mobilization, which are part of the Activism at The New School oral history program (NS.07.01.04). Additionally, The New School Archives holds the Mark Schmidt collection of Mobilization materials (NA.0020.00), which includes video and photographs from the Mobilization. The Carmen Hendershott collection of New School ephemera (NS.05.04.02) and the New School Periodicals collection (NS.05.06.01) also contain material documenting the Mobilization and other student activism during this period. The Ann Snitow papers (NS.02.08.01) and the Mark Larrimore faculty records (NS.02.09.01) also include documentation of student activism at The New School in the late 1980s-mid 1990s.

Guide to the Jo Townson collection of Mobilization papers
Anna Robinson-Sweet
February 13, 2020
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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