The 1960s and early 1970s were a very interesting time to be in college. Sure, being college-age could get you sent off to war, but that led to large demonstrations, which made the period unique. There was free love, drugs and protestors. The University changed its curriculum based on student suggestions, kicked the Reserve Officers' Training Corps off campus and admitted women.
Many people, including myself, have a sentimental desire to see universities maintain that tone. Brown, the Ivy League school for hippies, has successfully done so to some extent — that smoke in the hallway? That is the smell of preservation. The University still has its 40-year-old New Curriculum in place — even if it is increasingly being adulterated. ROTC has been kept off campus, even if the old anti-war impetus has been replaced by an anti-anti-queer one.
Other activities are present but lack luster. Some group of students is always ready to tell people about the America's wars, foreign genocide, mistreatment of Palestinians, misrepresentation of Israelis or the injustices suffered by workers. Yet few people care. Fractured, these causes do not draw the support that demonstrations in the 1960s did. In most of the cases, the majority of people interested in taking action already are part of the group. Even the civil rights demonstrations for marriage equality lack the 1960s luster without police brutality.
While the second coming of Ira Magaziner '69 P'06 P'07 P'10 to rid the curriculum of creeping requirements and bring back quality activism might be nice, times have changed. Nostalgia by itself is not reason enough to keep things the same on campus, nor to return them to the way they were.
Continuing the memory of the Vietnam-era anti-war protests might be nice, but that is insufficient reason to deny ROTC a place on campus if it would otherwise be beneficial. The main justification has even changed with time to the military's discrimination against lesbians, gays and bisexuals. Since Vietnam, the military no longer drafts citizens, it fights differently and it no longer goes to war based on false premise. Scratch that last one. Even more change will hopefully come this year whenever the military chooses to end "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
But some things remain the same, even after decades. Transgender citizens will still be barred from service and women will still face often ignored sexism — both officially and unofficially.
After the invasion of Iraq, students around the country tried to revive the old Students for a Democratic Society. The protests against the Iraq War were anemic in comparison to the Vietnam ones. Whether it is for lack of a draft or some other reason, people just do not care enough to protest like they once did. Even the University's SDS chapter cannot match the original groups efforts. The best "the Man" they can come up with is the Corporation? Are there no more pressing threats to democracy than the administrative body of the University? All right, I suppose it will be fun seeing Chancellor Thomas Tisch '76 P'07 shut down the University's Internet access in a last ditch attempt to hold on to his power.
Rather than try to use the cachet of the 1960's group's name, they should have tried to start something separate. That way, the old organization would not look frivolous and the new one not fail to live up to expectations. While wanting to revive the old level of outrage against injustice is good, it should be tailored to today's situation.
Of course, there has been continued progress for some things. Gender equality and the sexual revolution are clearly among them. Modern Brown far outdoes 1960s Brown when it comes to free love. It probably does so during Sex Power God alone — the rest of the year is an added bonus. Some students may still bemoan these supposedly shallow hook-ups, but life at Brown has still progressed. It should be noted that some of what happens at SPG was illegal during the 1960s and 1970s — sadly, it is not the music.
The University continues to slowly improve gender equality. Things like gender-neutral housing are finally coming after the University's implementation of gender-neutral admissions long ago.
It would be nice to revive some of the old revolutionary spirit. But it should not just be cut and pasted from the past. Just as with gender equality and sexual liberation, the essence should be retained, but the details should be designed to fit the current environment.
David Sheffield '11 is a mathematical physics concentrator and the great-great-grandson of a trustee of the University, hence pure evil. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.