On the heels of an historic election that caught many social justice activists—within and without the Barnard community—by surprise, alumnae and students came together to talk about activism across generational lines. Members of the Class of 1971 who had participated in the Columbia University student protests of 1968 exchanged insights with student activists on November 15 in an electrifying panel discussion followed by table-talk dialogue. The event was sponsored by the Barnard Center for Research on Women.
Participants included three members of the Class of 1971—Katherine Brewster, Janet Price, and Karla Spurlock-Evans —all of whom had been involved in the Columbia protests of April 1968 in which students occupied Hamilton Hall to raise awareness of their objections to the University’s involvement in the Vietnam War, the proposed construction of a gymnasium for Columbia on city-owned land in Morningside Park, and against systematic racism at large. Many students were arrested by the New York Police Department, which used tear gas as it quashed the demonstration.
The audience of 150 students, alumnae, and community members watched short excerpts of the two films created by members of the Class of 1971 documenting how their lives were shaped by attending Barnard during this tumultuous time. Many members of this class were affected not only by the 1968 protests but also by all the other social change movements of the late 1960s and beyond that forever altered our world.
Three Barnard students—DaMonique Ballou '17, Nadia Mbondi '17, and Rowan Hepps Kenney '18—currently engaged in Black Lives Matter organizing, student-worker solidarity, and transgender justice—were also on the panel, which was moderated by BCRW Senior Activist Fellow Katherine Acey and introduced by BCRW director Tina Campt.
All the panelists emphasized that anyone can be involved in social justice activism in some aspect, and that “apathy is unacceptable,” as Rowan Hepps Kenney said. “Activism doesn’t only mean being in the streets,” pointed out Katherine Acey. “You can be an activist no matter where you are.” The conversation continued at individual tables, where everyone had the chance to share their views on what it means to create social change.