Alumni reflect on Willard Straight occupation, 50 years later

Frank Dawson ’72 held a public conversation April 18 in Bailey Hall with Harry Edwards, Ph.D. ’73, about social justice and the 36-hour occupation of Willard Straight Hall.

Fifty years earlier, on April 19, 1969, dozens of members of Cornell’s Afro-American Society and several Latino students occupied the building to call attention to what they perceived as the university’s hostility toward students of color, its student judicial system and its slow progress in establishing an Africana studies program.

The occupation cannot be divorced from the civil rights movement that was playing out on the national stage, Dawson said. “We had seen the issues that our parents’ generation and their parents had to deal with,” he said. “We felt a responsibility to make some change on our own part as well.”

Dawson, now dean of career education at the Center for Media and Design at Santa Monica College, participated in the occupation as a first-year student. Edwards, one of the nation’s pre-eminent observers and scholars on the experience of black athletes and a professor emeritus of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, was then a sociology doctoral student and played a prominent role in the Barton Hall teach-in that followed. At the Bailey Hall event, they reflected on the occupation, its cultural context and social justice past and present

Read the entire artice in The Cornell Chronicle.


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Harry Edwards