By Chelsea Royal
Imagine skipping out on three semesters during your four years and still getting class credit. This happened during the Vietnam War, when student protests became so drastic that the University was forced to close for three springs in a row, all before final exams. Classes stopped and students received the grades they had earned up to that point in the semester. Some students who wanted to keep up with their education met with professors off-campus. Although the stream of events caused unrest on campus, actions like this were taken across the United States.
About 40 years ago, the United States underwent several revolutions and faced an event that forever changed the nation's history. A controversial decision, the Vietnam War led to many riots, protests and disagreements among Americans. It followed another turning point in our history, the Civil Rights movement. Universities throughout the country closed as students came together in efforts to promote change. Although some students were indifferent to the stream of events happening in the country, others were completely opposed.
A number of students declared themselves "on strike," held protests, attended sit-ins and even took over buildings. In the Student Center, a "Strike Center" was created to put together ideas for change and action. Hofstra students wanted authorities to acknowledge and adhere to their needs. Paul Schirrman, a student in the late 1960s, wrote a letter about the effects of the system on students and listed some demands. According to the University archives, Schirrman finished the letter by underlining the following statement:
"As for now, we must unite. All students share a mutual discontent. We must, together, express our desire for something better."
Michael D'Innocenzo, a history professor at the University, came to Hofstra in 1960 when he was 25 years old. He took an active role in the Civil Rights movement and held teach-ins on campus about the movement. During this time the gap between students and teachers was narrow, which led to more bonding within the Hofstra community. D'Innocenzo believes that this connection between students and faculty was extremely important at Hofstra.
During the 1960s and 70s, people wanted to protest and take to the streets. They were critical of the government and knew people were overseas dying. Professor D'Innocenzo referred to the era as a "youth quake": a tremendous change in a huge number of college students.
Among the many changes during this time were the rejection of formality and a sexual revolution. Girls who had previously worn dresses were now wearing jeans, birth control was on the market and feminist ideas were emerging. These changes scared many people off campus who thought young people were gaining more freedom.
"We were part of a larger national pattern," said D'Innocenzo.
In the 1960s, students followed a "let it all hang out" mentality; they were not interested in structured speeches, but ones that would pump them up to take action. On one occasion, thousands of students gathered on the quad of the Adams Playhouse to listen to William Kunstler, a famous lawyer; and Allard Lowenstein, a former Long Island congressman. Kunstler got the crowd excited for protest and was a dynamic speaker. Lowenstein prepared a written text, but was rejected by the student audience, who opposed structure.
Students demonstrated against the war and believed that since people were fighting a war, there should be "no business as usual." Hofstra felt pressure from other schools like Harvard, Berkley and Cornell to stop attending class and take action. Although D'Innocenzo supported students playing an active role in the nation's politics, he did not feel that learning needed to stop altogether.
D'Innocenzo recalls an even more dramatic event that began in front of Calkins Hall. Students were holding a rally led by their radical student body president, Norman Coleman, who wrote for The Chronicle and later became a Republican Senator for Minnesota. He called for the campus to be shut down so all efforts could go towards stopping the war. One of the speakers was a CW Post student who encouraged the crowd to take to the streets and storm the popular department store Abraham and Straus. According to D'Innocenzo, people took department stores as a sign of an American establishment and were an ideal place to protest. The student said his school and Adelphi University were ahead of Hofstra in anti-war movements. Students marched down Hempstead Turnpike and rallied along the sidewalk.
The department store created a welcoming experience by offering students cookies and juice. Police had arrived on the scene. The assembly ended with disappointment, as the other universities were not present at the store. Professors who joined the student rally were able to negotiate with police officers to prevent any mass arrests. Instead, Hofstra University was shut down that very day.
Faculty also played a part in the action taken against the system. They gathered professors from around the country went to the New York Times to pay for full-page ads calling for change.
"Going public is one of the acts of significant citizenship," said D'Innocenzo.
In April of 2011, the Department of Drama and Dance and the Cultural Center put on a three-day program that focused on the influence of war on the student population. The event was called Into Sunlight: The Impact of War on the Social Body, From the Vietnam Era to the Present.
David Henderson, Chair of the Drama and Dance Department, took part in these performances. On April 16, Henderson and performers played a concert, Rock Revolution: Psychedelic and Protest Music from 1968 to 1972, where the band played songs from the Beatles, The Who and other 1960s and 70s bands.
"We wanted to give the sense that you were watching from that time period," said Henderson.
The performance was aimed toward audience members who lived during this era, specifically veterans from the Vietnam War. At the end of the concert, a veteran in a wheelchair took the stage. He grabbed the microphone and announced that this tribute was the best thank-you he had ever gotten.