Bygone DePaul: The Black Student Union and the SAC take over

Bygone DePaul is a series highlighting DePaul’s campus and how it has changed through the years.

The 1960’s were a period of intense unrest throughout the country, but particularly on college campuses. And DePaul University was no exception. In particular, DePaul students protested for greater inclusion of minorities (particularly African-American and Puerto Rican) into the overall fabric of DePaul. This work began in earnest in 1968 with the founding of the Black Student Union (BSU) as a student group. On May 1st, 1968, the BSU delivered a list of demands to President Rev. John R. Cortelyou, which included desires for equal treatment in campus life (such as housing and student activities), as well as better representation of minority’s voices in the classrooms. The BSU especially campaigned for a required humanities class dealing with “the Black man and his contributions to society.” President Cortelyou took these demands into serious consideration and fulfilled them to a large extent. He ordered the formation of the University Committee on Human Relations to interface with any student groups who wanted a greater voice on campus and to implement the University’s response to the BSU. For example, Black “history, life and culture” were incorporated into many existing courses on campus starting in 1968. An Afro-American Studies interdisciplinary major was offered at DePaul starting in 1969; the major lasted until 1976.

Black Student Union

The Black Student Union also widened their area of concern to the entire Lincoln Park neighborhood and its large Puerto Rican population. On May 7th, 1969, the BSU publicly read a list of seven demands in the SAC pit, and the list was then presented to the Committee on Human Relations. The demands included the cessation of University expansion into the Lincoln Park neighborhood.

BSU Closed SignThey also called for various programs that would continue to improve the quality of education for Black students, and for an abolishment to the Humanities Program (which they contended was not relevant to Black student interests). On May 8th, the BSU members and 150 students waited in the SAC Pit to hear a response to their demands. Unhappy with the response, that night 40 students took over SAC and blocked all the doors with furniture. The morning of May 9th, students began to arrive for classes and were told to go home.

The building was reopened around noon, when the BSU allowed a discussion in the Pit that included representatives of the Young Lords and the Black Panthers. The next Wednesday, May 14th, an arsonist damaged the BSU offices in the Lyceum. Though the Black Student Union’s methods were questionable, it cannot be denied that their demands brought a new way of perceiving the responsibilities of education to the DePaul University faculty and administration. It can even be argued that the current liberal studies multiculturalism requirement is a direct heir of the new way of thinking about the sources and effects of knowledge that DePaul University was taught during the late ’60s.

Contact DePaul’s University Archives for more information.

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