By the later part of the sixties . . . people our age were being killed and were killing and it was very real to us.  So subtly goes away in a hurry.

                                    -- Paula Gordon, class of 1968[1]


It seemed to us that people where they were, everywhere, in their everyday lives, should be trying to do things to end the war and to stop the machinery of war.

                                    -- Joe Gross, class of 1967[2]


            The Vietnam War became increasingly important to Oberlin students as it progressed.  Opposition to the war, once a marginal position on campuses across the United States, grew dramatically, and Oberlin, somewhat more liberal than other campuses, was no exception.  Because of the draft, the war had a unique impact on students and on the campus environment.  The war added to the urgency with which students approached all activism.  In civil rights, it was possible to dig in for a long battle, but when people were dying every day in Vietnam, it was much harder to be patient, particularly if at any time you or someone you cared for might be called on to fight in this unjust war.  This urgency led to increased demands for student power and ultimately a huge strain on community and free speech.

            In May 1967, Student Senate (which replaced Student Council after the Student Congress) drafted a letter to President Johnson opposing the escalation of bombing.  This letter was approved in a student referendum by 53 percent of the students who voted.  Though a slim majority, this represented a definitive shift from 1965, when a similar letter was defeated.  In the same semester, five government professors endorsed Johnson’s Vietnam policy, including the favorite of activist students, Carey McWilliams, but ninety faculty members took a stand against the current prosecution of the war.[3]

            Students participated in a wide variety of anti-war activity.  Beginning in September 1966, silent vigils against the war were held every Wednesday at noon.  Over 150 students, faculty, and townspeople attended the first vigil.  These gatherings were only the most regular of the protests.  Students also attended demonstrations in Cleveland, New York, and Washington, DC.[4]  Two hundred and twenty five students attended the 1967 demonstration at which protesters “levitated” the Pentagon, and the energy from this action galvanized the Oberlin movement.  Students violated federal law by crossing into Canada to send medical supplies to the Vietnamese.  They also picketed a Cleveland induction center.  Radical students petitioned the Board of Trustees to liquidate College investments in Dow and Lockheed, which profited from the war, and U.S. Treasury Bonds, which went to support it.  The trustees rejected the proposal.  In 1968 a large number of students worked on the presidential campaign of anti-war Democrat Eugene McCarthy.[5]

            For many students opposing the draft was a major part of their anti-war activism.  “The issue of the draft was hanging over everyone and that made the colleges and universities a very potent place to be,” recalled one alumna.[6]  We have already seen, in the protest against the Selective Service Exam, some of the impact of the draft on the Oberlin campus.  As the war progressed, students began to come to terms with the effect of the war on their lives, and the campus anti-war movement grew dramatically.  Student concerns included the relationship of the College to the war effort.  As of 1966, a General Faculty Council statement that the College would co-operate with the draft without endorsing its aims governed College policy.  With regard to this policy, activists raised the familiar issue of who had a right to participate in the decision-making process.  Oberlin SDS argued, “We are the ones who may be drafted to kill and to die.  Therefore, we demand a role for students in determining College policy in this area.”[7]

            The draft had a major impact on students’ lives and the choices they made.  Activists in SDS questioned whether co-operating with the draft conflicted with the educational mission of the College:

The College has a function to seek and to spread knowledge, both for students and faculty.  We feel that these educational goals, which are quite subjective, will tend to be lost when a student’s life may depend on how well he performs according to “objective criteria” . . . Students will take easier courses to remain in school with high enough grades, instead of taking courses on the basis of what they will learn.  Some faculty feel that if a lower grade causes a student to be drafted, they are handing him a possible death sentence . . . For whatever value grades may have in evaluating the effects of education on individuals, they degrade our humanity when they are a major criterion in determining who shall be sent off to war.[8]

In this very real way, the draft directly affected students’ everyday educational choices.  Oberlin’s policy of releasing class rank only at a student’s request, students argued, did not make the system of ranking more acceptable since draft boards could essentially compel students to make this request.

            Another way that the draft influenced the campus was through “channeling” or indirect pressure on career choices.  A 1965 internal U.S. government document explained that the Selective Service System functioned not only to procure manpower for the war, but also to control manpower for “civilian activities which are manifestly in the national interest.”  A student going on to graduate school in engineering had a much greater chance of maintaining his deferment than one who went to graduate school in English.  Similarly, a student who could find a job at graduation that was “in the national interest” faced a better chance of avoiding the draft.[9]  Thus the threat of induction played a large role in students’ choices about field of study.

            Students had other objections to the draft as well.  They considered it inequitable since racial minorities and people in lower classes were far more likely to be drafted.  Students, by accepting deferments, essentially shifted the burden of conscription onto those less able to resist.  Despite this critique, the majority of students continued to accept deferments.  Arguments over the draft divided even anti-war students in attempts to agree on the correct response.  The question was, “Is the draft a bad thing, should we be resisting the draft?  Or should we say no it’s not the draft that’s the problem, it’s the war that’s the problem.”[10]

            The most important objective was to stop a war that leftist students saw as unjust, racist, American imperialism.  These students thought that there could never “be a just system of drafting men for an unjust war.”  The substance of the war issue was seen as more important than the undemocratic procedure of the draft.  College involvement with the draft began only after escalation of the war made the drafting of students, and thus the use of class rank and the Selective Service Exam, necessary.  For this reason, radical students saw College cooperation with these requirements as implicit support for the escalation of the war.[11]

            Students were no longer asking for the opportunity to discuss College policy, but demanding a role in decision making.  This was a dramatic change from the demonstrations of 1963.  As we have seen in the case of social rules, going through proper channels was not working.  Students’ pleas fell on deaf ears of administrators who considered the war to be an off-campus issue, despite the fact that many students did not experience this separation.  For them the war was an immediate reality, one that administrators and some faculty were stubbornly avoiding at best and directly supporting at worst.

            This debate involved both the procedural and substantive aspects of community, which were undergoing a shift at this point.  In terms of procedure students were moving away from attempts to influence policy and toward a notion that genuine representation was required whenever decisions that directly affected students were made.  But there was also a debate over the substance of community and whether the war was a community issue.  Carr thought it was not, but students thought it was.  Activist students wanted the anti-war issue to become something around which the community could rally against the world as it had long before in the case of slavery.  Instead the war issue was divisive and undermined students’ optimism.   This led to the abandonment of hopes for the Oberlin community similar to the abandonment of hopes for the Beloved Community.

            Oberlin Resistance was founded in February 1968 as part of “a national movement which aims at undermining the Selective Service System by taking the position of complete and open noncooperation with the draft.”[12]  This group gathered information on draft alternatives and noncooperation and counseled students on how to resist the draft.  The Resistance also attempted to develop a radical analysis of the function of the draft within American society.[13]  It is unclear how many Oberlin students actually severed their connection to the draft, but at least four, including Peter Blood and Phil Woodbury, did so publicly in the spring of 1968.  During the same semester, Peter Woodrow and Professor Walter Sanders announced their intention to decline deferments.  Upwards of 215 male students signed a “We Won’t Go” petition, pledging not to allow themselves to be inducted for the duration of the war.[14]  Jack Hill refused induction after he graduated.  He judged that of the several hundred members of that group, “most were interested in non-cooperation of some kind,” not simply in obtaining deferments or conscientious objector status.[15]

            The Resistance was self-consciously concerned with community, but not the entire Oberlin community.  This organization was more interested in forming their own radical community which could be a base for non-cooperation with the draft and links to others working against the war across the country.[16]  This conception of community was extremely different from the notion of community held by Oberlin students of 1963.  The ideal of community was being redefined to focus almost exclusively on students and forming a student community.

            The movement against the draft demonstrated the urgency of the anti-war movement for students.  The war was not remote, but extremely close to home for them.  This urgency combined with the frustration of earlier attempts at change led to a more militant student movement at Oberlin.

* * *

            Early in the morning on February 13, 1967, three Air Force recruiters began setting up their table in the lobby of Wilder Hall.  Around 10:30, between 50 and 75 students arrived and sat in front of the recruiters’ table.  At about 1:30, while the recruiters were away from their table having lunch in the snack bar, the picketers surrounded each of them and locked arms to prevent them from meeting with potential enlistees.  Students who were opposed to these tactics gathered and a several scuffles occurred.  Matt Rinaldi remembered,

There was a moment in time when I was linking arms with two other students, and a pro-war student . . . grabbed me by the neck from behind and dragged me down on the floor, and he and I actually got into a fist fight . . . It created a lot of division at first among students on campus.[17]

The College had to ask the recruiters to give up for the day, but offered them the opportunity to meet with interested students the following day in the Office of Graduate Placement and Counseling.

            The next day picketers gathered inside Peters Hall, where the recruiters were holding interviews.  Many protesters signed up for interviews with the recruiters so that fewer slots would be available to students interested in joining the military.  The demonstrators did not obstruct access to the placement office at least partly because the administration had threatened to expel any students who engaged in coercive protest, which was defined as preventing the freedom of movement of members of the College community or guests of the College.  There were few students willing to risk expulsion, so this threat led to a change in tactics.  Around two o’clock that afternoon, a demonstration was held outside of Peters.  At least 200 people expressed their disapproval of the war in Vietnam, although many also made clear they did not favor obstructing access to military recruiters.  A smaller group of around thirty counter-picketed in favor of the Vietnam War.[18]

            Over the next few weeks, 673 students signed a petition opposing the denial of access to recruiters as a violation of free speech, free assembly, and students’ right to information.[19]  Many people expressed the view that while they were against the war, they also opposed blocking recruitment.  It appeared that students who did not want military recruiters on campus were only a vocal minority.  This demonstration triggered a long and serious debate over the meaning of military recruitment on campus.

            In May Navy recruiters visited the campus.  Students held what was known as the “checkerboard sit-in” in which a sit-in was held outside the Office of Graduate Placement where recruiters were holding interviews, but room was left between participants for people to go in and out of the office.  This tactic represented a compromise between anti-war students who did not approve of coercive tactics and those who had participated in the February anti-recruitment demonstration.  It also represented a concession to the administration since it had been made clear that interfering with recruiting would lead to expulsion.  Between 120 and 200 students participated in this sit-in and an anti-war picket held outside the building.  Counter-protesters were again present and passed out flyers advocating continuation of the war although, with some reservations about current policy.[20]

            Controversy and unrest seemed to have been averted by the checkerboard compromise, but radical students were looking for a way to stop the war and not simply to express their disapproval.  Of course actually stopping the war would require much more substantial risks on their part, risks like those taken by people who broke into draft boards to destroy records or joined the military in order to better organize GI resistance.  Only a few of the many Oberlin students who participated in these protests were willing to go this far. 

            In addition to a desire for more direct action rather than expression, activists were not entirely satisfied with this less confrontational protest.  Bernie Mayer remembered, “Everyone said this sucks.  This really feels lousy.  This feels wimpy.  We’re not going to do it again.”[21]  Threatened with expulsion for further on-campus disruptions, these students decided to move their demonstration into the town.  Here they could make a dramatic and confrontational stand.  The College had never disciplined students for off-campus demonstrations, despite numerous arrests during civil rights demonstrations.

            On the morning of Thursday October 26, 1967, fifty-three college students surrounded the car of a Navy Recruiter as he was driving up Main Street toward the College.  They used motorcycles to spot and stop the car; then students moved in on foot to surround it.  The Oberlin police were immediately alerted, but it took them several hours to gather enough personnel from surrounding towns to deal with the large group of demonstrators. During this time the group around the car swelled to just over one hundred.  At noon, the recruiter tried to move his car forward in an attempt to escape.  The students were able to stop him, but not before the recruiter’s car dented a nearby parked car.  A little while later, students voted to allow the recruiter to go to the bathroom at a nearby gas station.  He had not returned when the police began converging on the car.[22]

            The police had decided to try to disperse the crowd rather than arrest the demonstrators, who had stated they would go limp, requiring the police to physically remove them from the street.  At one o’clock, the police sprayed the students with fire hoses; despite the cold, the protesters stuck it out.  The police then tried smoke and finally tear gas.  These too failed to break up the demonstration.  Shortly afterward the demonstrators decided to walk voluntarily to the police station to be booked, but the police could not process them all.  No arrests were made and the protesters were told they could leave.[23]

            That night the General Faculty and several hundred students met separately to discuss the events of the day.  The General Faculty was quick to clarify its policy against coercive demonstration to include the town of Oberlin and not just the campus.  Many students, while not supporters of the initial demonstration, believed the police had acted too harshly toward the protesters.  Student discussions of a strike were preempted by the faculty decision to cancel classes on Monday and declare a Day of Discussion.  Of the 400 to 600 hundred people at the students’ meeting, 100 to 150 remained after this announcement to plan a protest for the next day when the Navy recruiters would return to the Office of Graduate Placement and Counseling.[24]

            On Friday, students attempted to block access to the Placement Office for the recruiters and students who wished to meet with them.  One hundred and forty-four students participated in the sit-in while another 250 stood by ready to join them if the College threatened disciplinary action.  Some students managed to meet with the recruiters, but they had to climb over and step on the sit-in participants to do so.  Despite high emotions, no incidents of violence occurred.[25]

            The entire episode attracted international media coverage and spurred widespread debate on campus.  This debate had begun the previous February, but it expanded dramatically because of this incident.  The publicity caused this event to enter into the collective memory of the College as the symbol of the conflict over military recruitment.

            The primary aim of students’ attempts to block military recruitment on campus was not to voice their discontent with the Vietnam War, but to actually impede the prosecution of that war.  They protested “because recruitment for the Air Force is an extension of the war in Vietnam, and because recruitment is necessary for the prosecution of the war.”[26]  If recruitment were a necessary part of the war effort, as these students believed, then stopping it would force the military to reconsider the war.  Of course Oberlin students could not stop all military recruitment, but they were part of a national effort on many campuses to obstruct the war effort.    The Cocktail Hour, a publication of Oberlin SDS, mapped out efforts to stop recruitment at eleven other places, including Cornell and Amherst.[27]  However, whether recruitment on college campuses was essential to the war effort remained unclear.  The military had other means of obtaining manpower, specifically the draft.  In addition, working class men, disproportionately those of color, were going off to Vietnam much more than college students.

            One of the major issues raised by the use of coercive protests was whether preventing military recruiters from coming to campus violated the principles of free speech and academic freedom.  President Carr, an absolutist civil libertarian, certainly thought so.  On October 26, at the regular Thursday noon assembly, he announced, “I am mourning today because some members of the College community have interfered with the rights of others.”[28]  He stated unequivocally that he could not accept “censorship” of the Office of Placement and Graduate Counseling.  In his speech at the Monday “think-in,” he argued, “Lt. Commander C. R. Smith came to the campus to use speech -- words -- in order to counsel with those who voluntarily wanted to talk with him privately.  The students who imprisoned him . . . used force to prevent him from talking.”[29]  He also stated that he did not believe students were sincere in their civil disobedience because they were not willing to accept the consequences.  This position allowed him to view the recruitment protests as fundamentally different from civil disobedience in the civil rights movement. 

            Students themselves claimed that they were indeed willing to accept arrest and punishment for their actions, although, they were not as willing to accept the College imposed penalties.  Jack Hill recalled, “What you had really was a civil rights style, nonviolent demonstration; it was intended to be that.  And we were prepared to be arrested and had people in the Oberlin Review office who would bail us out and get lawyers and what not.”[30]

            Carr did not actually define what he thought free speech meant on a college campus, but he argued that the Placement Office should be a public forum for all who wished to convince students to work for their organization.  This forum was provided by the College as a service to students.  It could be closed, but it could not make content-based decisions about who was allowed to visit.  Carr’s conception of free speech was also absolute, i.e. there were no values that superseded it.

            Students and faculty advanced a variety of other ideas about the relationship between free speech and military recruitment on campus.  Most people who opposed barring recruiters from campus used some version of Carr’s argument about academic freedom and free speech to justify this position.  Some were more pragmatic, agreeing that it would be acceptable to bar recruiters, but only if there existed a general campus consensus which was clearly not the case.

            Some who supported barring recruiters argued that there was no issue of freedom of speech since recruitment is not speech.  They argued “the freedom of speech issue is irrelevant to this discussion because no inalienable rights of anybody are being abridged one way or the other, since the recruiters are unwilling to engage in the type of discourse that is protected by freedom of speech.”[31]  In other words, recruiters were not interested in debating the merits of the war in Vietnam but came to campus solely to recruit.  They added nothing to the intellectual debate over the war, so their presence could hardly be considered primarily one of speech.  One student labeled them peddlers, and stated that their invitation to campus should be contingent on an assessment of whether their presence would do more good than harm.[32]

            Students Mark Landy and Leslie Leopold proposed that the tolerance of recruiters on campus be contingent on their willingness to discuss the issues and not simply to recruit.  When controversial recruiters come to campus, the College would require them to hold an open forum on the policies and practices of their organization.  This policy could be applied to all recruiters, not just those from the military, which would have allowed the College to escape from making content-based choices about who came to campus.  Landy explained:

Any group that wishes to use Oberlin College facilities, if Oberlin students are concerned with the morality of its goals of procedures, must as part of its presence on campus be willing to engage in such a free interchange of ideas with the students since such a free interchange of ideas is the basic reason why any of us are at this college.[33]

One of the major strengths of this proposal was that was recognized both the special nature of recruiters as agents of speech and the role of the College as an educational institution.  This proposal, while a good compromise, provided for neither the unrestrained recruitment that free speech absolutists like Carr wanted nor the moral condemnation of the military desired by the most radical students.  It was heatedly discussed but never adopted.

            Some of the students involved in the recruiter demonstrations admitted that they had violated the free speech of the recruiters but argued that they had a moral imperative to do so.  The atrocities being committed in Vietnam on a daily basis were gross violations of the rights of the Vietnamese people, and stopping the operation of the war machine that committed these atrocities outweighed the individual rights of an agent of that war.  These students argued “there is a balance necessary between freedom of speech or other constitutional rights and moral priorities.”[34]

            Those who made this argument tended to deny the possibility of a neutral position for the College.  They compared the College’s neutrality to a “neutral” German who did not actively support but in no way opposed Hitler and the atrocities that he committed.  They also appealed to the Geneva Convention as proof of their obligation to take all possible action to stop their government from committing the war crimes that were occurring in Vietnam.  “Unless there is not only a right, but an obligation to protect the rights of others, we must deny that anyone was ever obligated to prevent the practice of slavery,” one professor argued.[35]  In other words, the Oberlin community was required to defend the rights of the Vietnamese people just as much as, if not more than, the rights of the military recruiters. 

            These students and some professors argued that “organizations can, by engaging in sufficiently heinous activities, lose their legitimacy and thereby forfeit their rights,” and they thought that the American military, like the Nazis in World War II, had done exactly that.  Finally radical activists argued,

We see the present social order as oppressive and manipulative.  We are trying to destroy this order and suppress these activities which we find so abhorrent.  If we try to operate within the structure of bourgeois civil liberties, we cannot be free, we will be castrating ourselves.  Logically enough this system has not been designed to allow people to destroy it while operating within its framework.[36]

This argument was certainly the most radical one raised by Oberlin students at the time, and the point, behind the sexualized rhetoric, was that applying civil liberties equally to all groups ultimately benefited the dominant groups in society.  This reasoning was connected to the idea that government speech, such as military recruitment, already had more than sufficient power behind it.  These students admitted that military recruitment was speech, but they did not feel this classification entitled it to protection.  The principle of free speech was designed to protect minorities from being silenced by the majority and should not be applied to a repressive government advocating what in the eyes of many students amounted to genocide.  These students would have liked Oberlin College to help lead the fight for change, but they were also coming to an analysis of why that would not happen.  They began to see the power structure of the College, particularly the trustees, as part of the power structure of the nation, a power structure that they saw as corrupt and anti-democratic.[37]

            This analysis had fundamental implications for the concept of community at Oberlin.  The Vietnam War tested the strength of the Oberlin community because it led people to very different conclusions about the nature of American society.  But the ideal of community, though weakened, remained significant in the ways in which the campus dealt with the conflict.  Coercive protests threatened the civility of discourse that had characterized Oberlin as a close-knit campus located in a small-town.  Almost everyone at Oberlin knew everyone else, which resulted in a certain level of respect for opposing viewpoints.  Chip Hauss, a student at the time recalled, “We built strong bonds, not just amongst ourselves but across the ideological divide, and there was always a significant degree of respect for those we disagreed with.”[38]  Professor of government Carey McWilliams remembered the “intensity of community at Oberlin . . . people were just very aware of being connected to one another.”[39]  But the recruitment protests led to fist fights in the snack bar and angry threats of expulsion that had not been a part of previous campus conflicts.  In this way community was seriously threatened.

            Radical students were willing to risk this threat to community.  They believed the moral imperative to fight the war was so strong as to outweigh community.  In addition, the Oberlin community ideal had to a large extent been replaced by the goals of student community and student power.  Still radical students took steps to ensure that the recruitment protests disrupted the wider campus community as little as possible.  When they surrounded the Navy recruiter’s car, they designated a specific student, Chip Hauss, to be the liaison to the faculty and administration.  He remembered, “My job was to maintain relations with the athletes and the faculty members who we knew would be pissed off by what we were doing.”[40]  Activists were constantly willing to engage in discussion with others about their positions and their reasons for protesting.

            Oberlinians spent countless hours discussing these issues with one another.  The “think-in” held after the Navy recruiter demonstration was an example of the community responding as a whole and attempting to come to terms with the issues involved in the demonstration.  The strong belief that conflicts could be resolved through dialogue overrode the impulse to expel the involved students.  It is a testament to the strength of the Oberlin community that these forums were used so extensively.

            Likewise the checkerboard sit-in was essentially a way to demonstrate against the war in a forceful manner without alienating segments of the community, particularly those segments that were opposed to the war but worried about coercive tactics.  It came about through dialogue between the group involved in the Air Force demonstration and those who had opposed its tactics but not its message.[41]  The checkerboard sit-in was a meaningful, although short lived, attempt to find forms of protest that would not be so disruptive to the Oberlin community.

            One person who was an important caretaker of community during this period was Dean of Students George Langeler.  Langeler served as the mediator between students and the administration.  He attempted to remain neutral and managed to earn the respect of all parties, despite many disagreements.  Langeler resolved not to call the police onto campus to deal with demonstrators, and perhaps this is the reason Oberlin never experienced violent clashes like those at Berkeley, Columbia, or Kent State.  He recalled, “What I wanted was for people to keep talking.”[42]  President Carr also deserves some credit on this point.  Ultimately the decision whether or not to call in the police fell to him, and he never did so. 

            Langeler remembered student demonstrators as having a great deal of integrity and having carefully thought out the limits of acceptable protest, even though these limits often did not match those set by the administration and faculty.  These limits included never degrading any person or damaging property.  He recalled,

One morning as I was crossing the parking lot by Finney, a student came up to me and said, “When you get to your office you’ll find the lobby of Peters filled with bodies, but we have voted that you and the people who work in the building may go anywhere you wish, just tell us and we’ll make a path for you”... They weren’t interested in confronting people . . . Again it’s an example of their sense of integrity.  They were trying to say we’re not really angry at you, we’re not trying to play games with the secretaries, we just have a very simple cause.[43]

Activists were very concerned with the effect their actions would have on the community and the individuals within it.

            The circumstances at Oberlin differed somewhat from the national anti-war movement.  The week before the Navy recruiter demonstration was Stop the Draft Week in Oakland and the birth of “mobile tactics” in which demonstrators built barricades, destroyed property, and battled, although mostly defensively, with the police.  Protestors blocked off the Oakland Induction Center successfully for an entire day using these methods.  Nonviolence was no longer a favored movement tactic.  This began a period in which anti-war demonstrators made their goal to “bring the war home.”[44]

            Placed against this backdrop of the shift toward violent resistance in the national movement, the Oberlin military recruitment protests were non-violent and restrained.  While recruitment demonstrations on other campuses turned into violent battles between demonstrators and police with injuries on both sides, at Oberlin these demonstrations were relatively peaceful.  Oberlin students could not follow the national movement into the realm of violent resistance in large part because of their sense of community.  As we have seen in the memories of Chip Hauss, Carey McWilliams, and George Langeler, activists retained a significant degree of respect for their opponents that helped to prevent the outbreak of serious, destructive violence.  So while the Oberlin community came under strain, it also demonstrated its strength in responding to the Vietnam War.

            Military recruitment put a serious strain on the Oberlin community and ideas of free speech within that community.  The depth of the conflict over the Vietnam War and the personal way in which it affected students added to the urgency with which they pursued the issue and decreased their willingness to allow the decision making of the College to go through the “proper channels.”  The tension that the war issue created brought into conflict ideas that student radicals in the early sixties had cherished, community and free speech.  Ultimately opposition to the war was more important to students’ substantive community values than was free speech.  At the end of the school year in 1968, the Office of Placement and Graduate Counseling had been closed to all recruiters, military or not, and calm was temporarily restored.

            A subtext of this discussion was student power, in other words how much say students would have in shaping College policy toward the war and toward military recruiters specifically.  The Vietnam War was the central issue in the lives of many students, and coercive protests were one way in which students could take control of College policies themselves, instead of allowing the administration to make decisions for them.  This attempt to take direct control was in conflict with the idea of the community.  These tensions continued to play out in other areas of College life as well.

            As mentioned before the organization of the anti-war movement at Oberlin was largely informal.  Although there were several organizations that worked on the war issue, including SDS, Oberlin Resistance, and SLATE, most demonstrations were planned at large meetings by people who did not necessarily belong to any of these organizations.  Spontaneous meetings also occurred during demonstrations to decide important issues; these meetings were always run democratically with an emphasis on hearing all points of view.

            This type of informal organization represented students’ concern for participatory democracy, a strong element in their conception of community.  But as has been well documented by Sara Evans in Personal Politics, this style of organization had a specific impact on women.  “[L]ack of structure and clear responsibility only intensified the tendency toward informal, male leadership.”[45]  This system tended to be based on influence; it became difficult to access informal power structures because they were not acknowledged.  In the early sixties, when the student movement had a formal organizational structure, at least a two women, Marcia Aronoff and Isabel Tapper, were able to become leaders in the civil rights movement and student government respectively.  The Oberlin anti-war movement, based in this loose organization and also draft resistance in which women could not participate, had no women leaders.

            A shift in organization can also be seen in the decreased emphasis on the Mock Convention of 1968.  It was not the case, as it had been in 1960 and 1964, that the convention was a major focus of activism.  The most politicized students had rejected the traditional structures of political change; they no longer believed that working through them would be productive.  The 1968 Mock Convention was the last one held at Oberlin.

            In the late sixties activists were struggling to redefine their notions of community in light of the frustrations experienced by the student movement.  The urgency of the Vietnam War for students changed the tone and character of activism.  In draft resistance and the recruiter protests, radical students demonstrated that they were willing to sacrifice the Oberlin community to other values.  The rising critique of the community ideal made this easier.


[1]Paula Gordon, interview by author, 15 Dec. 2001.

[2]Joe Gross, telephone interview by author, tape recording, 20 Nov. 2001.

[3]“Vigils and Letters Protest Vietnam War,” Oberlin Review, 19 Sept. 1967, 17; Carey McWilliams was a younger faculty member in the government department who had a close relationship with activist students during the early sixties.  Students spent large amounts of time at his house.  When he came out in favor of the war many activists felt betrayed.


[5]“War Protests Continue,” Oberlin Review, 10 Sept. 1968, 19.

[6]Susan Kerr Chandler, interview.

[7]“College Policy Toward the DRAFT:  A Statement by Oberlin Chapter, Students for a Democratic Society,” 1966-67, Student Organization Files, Student Life Records, Box 2, OCA.


[9]“Channeling,” in "Takin’ it to the streets": A Sixties Reader, ed. Alexander Bloom and Wini Breines (Oxford University Press:  New York, 1995) 240-241.

[10]Bernie Mayer, interview.


[12]“The Resistance,” Student Organization Records, Student Life Files, Box 1, OCA.

[13]William R. Hedges, “Oberlin Resistance -- Position Paper,” written for National Resistance Conference, 25-28 March 1969, Student Organization Records, Student Life Files, Box 2, OCA.

[14]“War Protests Continue,” 19.

[15]Jack Hill, interview.

[16]Hedges, “Oberlin Resistance.”

[17]Matthew Rinaldi, telephone interview by author, tape recording, 4 Dec. 2001.

[18]Chronology of Air Force Recruiter Demonstration, 13-14 Feb. 1967, Student Union Files, Dean of Students Records, Box 1, OCA.

[19]“The College and the War,” Oberlin Review, 19 Sept 1967, 17.


[21]Bernie Mayer, interview.

[22]“Student Protest Prompts College Think-In,” December 1967, Oberlin College, Student Life Files, Carr Presidential Records, Box 5, OCA.

[23]Ibid.; Later some arrests were made based on pictures and those convicted were given a choice between a night in jail, a fine, and community service.



[26]“Why We Protest,” 13 Feb. 1967, Student Life Files, Carr Presidential Records, Box 5, OCA.

[27]“The State of the Movement,” The Cocktail Hour, 3 Dec. 1967, 5.

[28]Statement by Robert K. Carr on 26 Oct. 1967, Student Life Files, Carr Presidential Records, Box 4, OCA.

[29]Talk by President Carr given on 30 Oct. 1967, Student Life Files, Carr Presidential Records, Box 4, OCA, 3.

[30]Jack Hill, interview.

[31]Mark Landy, “Debate Begins Discussion Day; Allow Recruiters? Yes, No, and If --,” Student Protest Prompts College Think In, Oberlin College, Dec. 1967, Student Life Files, Carr Presidential Records, Box 5, OCA, 2.

[32]Thomas F. Witheridge, “’Free Speech’ is a Pseudo-Issue,” Oberlin Review, 8 Dec. 1967, 2.

[33]Mark Landy, “Debate Begins,” 2.

[34]Paul Osterman, “Debate Begins Discussion Day; Allow Recruiters? Yes, No, and If --,”  Student Protest Prompts College Think In, Oberlin College, Dec. 1967, Student Life Files, Carr Presidential Records, Box 5, OCA, 3.

[35]Stephen E. Norris, “Crab Gras and the War,” The College and the War, February 1969, 66.

[36]Jack Ailey, “Civil Liberties & Revolution,” The Cocktail Hour, 15 November 1967, 3.

[37]“Oberlin and the Power Structure,” 13 March 1969, Student Life Files, Robert K. Carr Presidential Records, Box 9, OCA.

[38]Charles Hauss, telephone interview by author, tape recording, 13 Nov. 2001.

[39]Carey McWilliams, telephone interview by author, tape recording, 28 Nov. 2001.

[40]Charles Hauss, interview..

[41]“Protest: An Open Letter,” Oberlin Review, 24 February 1967, 2.

[42]George Langeler, interview by author, tape recording, Oberlin, OH, 29 Nov. 2001.


[44]Gitlin, 249-256.

[45]Evans, 116.