Libby Nelson: A Campus Activist-Turned-Administrator Remembers 1969

Roundup: Talking About History

[Libby Nelson is a 2009 graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, currently the government and politics reporting intern for The Chronicle of Higher Education.]

During homecoming this year, the University of Pittsburgh marked the 40th anniversary of a campus protest in 1969, when black student activists occupied the computer center and called on the university to increase the enrollment and hiring of African-Americans, provide support for black students, and recognize the significance of black culture. One of the negotiators was a former student leader and new assistant professor named Jack L. Daniel, who later became vice provost for academic affairs, vice provost for undergraduate studies, and dean of students. Now a professor of communications, he joined in recent celebrations of Pitt's advances in diversity.

Q. What was the University of Pittsburgh campus like at the time of the protests?

A. In 1969 we had a very, very small number of African-American students on campus. I think at that time about three other African-Americans were on the faculty. I don't believe there was a single African-American administrator. Pitt was what most people back then would have referred to when they say a predominantly white campus.

Q. What was your role in negotiating the protests?

A. What a lot of people tend to ignore was the safety of those young students. It would have been very easy for an administration to call in police. It would have been very easy for an officer to get carried away, or a student to do something that he or she shouldn't have. You could have a Kent State very easily. So that night my primary concern was to bring the"negotiation" to a positive conclusion, but to do so without any kind of damage to university property and without any kind of harm to any of those students, and to do so without armed intervention. And we succeeded in doing that.

comments powered by Disqus