It’s been 50 years since a dozen UCSB students took over North Hall to demand a change in curriculum and campus climate towards black students. Last week, four of those students returned to UCSB for a three-day conference called A Black Vision of Change. “We wanted to express ourselves about basic issues and how African American students were being treated on campus and in America,” said Dalton Nezey of the North Hall event in 1968.
As part of the 50-year celebration, actor and humanitarian Danny Glover was invited to deliver the keynote address. Glover himself was involved in student activism during his time at San Francisco State University, participating in a five-month strike that led to the creation of the Department of Black Studies. He connected events and activism on campus to national and global events and consequences. “A strike is not successful if students are not connected with the community,” said Glover, adding, “Students have always been the foot soldiers.”
In the 1968 event, Nezey and the Black Student Union (BSU) overtook North Hall to demand an education that reflected their experience as black people in America. “Everyone wants a relevant education,” he said. “Everyone wants to improve their lives — it’s about quality of existence,” said Nezey. BSU students strategically occupied the computer center. Students understood the university wouldn’t want any of the expensive equipment damaged or destroyed and would therefore be more likely to work with students’ demands.
As a result of the action, the Department of Black Studies and the Center for Black Studies Research were founded a year later. The action also contributed to the founding of the Chicano Studies Department and later the departments of Asian American and Women’s Studies.
Dr. Jeffrey Stewart, a professor in the Department of Black Studies, organized the conference. Stewart encouraged current students to continue putting pressure on the university. “People have a tendency to fall into old habits,” he said. “It’s two steps forward, one step back. We need to be ready to push forward for the next two steps.”