“Two, three, many Columbias” or One Too Many San Francisco States? Remembering the 1968 Student Protests
1968 was a year of the student protester. In the spring, students occupied Columbia to protest the school’s role in the war and its segregationist policies. Across the country, San Francisco State College students engaged in the longest student strike in US history, demanding a curriculum better suited to a more diverse student body, achieving many demands but only after a five-month strike.
The Columbia protest generated enormous attention at the time, becoming a symbol of student protest in a radicalized era. The SFSC strike, despite widespread attention at the time, has largely been forgotten today.
How we remember student protests of 1968 affects how we respond to student protest today, with the ignored SFSC action providing a better lens for thinking about today’s student protest, even while the Columbia model continues to dominate the conversation, whether as nostalgia for the past or warning for the future.
Linus Owens is a professor of sociology at Middlebury College. He studies political protest, including urban squatting movements and student activism.
He is currently working on a project looking at the role of travel and mobility for activists. In his spare time, he is writing a book on Halloween.