Even in Fascism’s Heyday, Anti-Fascists on Campus Were Controversial

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tags: fascism

Some college students today say they’re protesting fascists when people like Milo Yiannopoulos come to their campus to lob verbal firebombs. That’s a conviction they share with student protesters of the 1930s, some of whom were registering their opposition to the world leaders who made 20th-century fascism famous.

Carol Smith, a retired professor at City College of New York, documented the history of one such incident, in which students protested a student delegation representing Benito Mussolini, in an exhibit called "The Struggle for Free Speech at CCNY, 1931-42." That 1934 protest — which saw violence committed, students expelled, and a college president and Mussolini burned together in effigy — features some parallels with the present.

Cassie Barnhardt, a University of Iowa assistant professor of education who studies campus activism, said the students back then fought about similar subjects — economic inequality and race, for example. Today’s students, she said, have more variety in what and how they protest.

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