Up Against the Ivy Wall: the Columbia Insurrection at 50
Publisher: Counter Punch
Date Written: 06/02/2018
Year Published: 2018
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX22540
"My plan was to major in English and become a professor," she writes in an essay titled "Stopping the Machine" that's collected in A Time to Stir: Columbia '68, a new 438-page book (Columbia, $35) which is edited by filmmaker Paul Cronin. Rosahn explains that at the start of the protests, she was a "leftish Democrat" and that in the course of the rebellion she became "a devoted student radical."
A Time to Stir: Columbia '68 is an excellent source book and will no doubt be of great value to future historians of the Sixties, though it also suggests that memories are unreliable, and that to understand what happened on the campus that Spring one needs a sense of critical detachment and the ability to synthesize competing and even contradictory narratives by the participants themselves.
Nancy Biberman, who was also a Barnard student in 1968, argues in her essay, "Children of the New Age," that the Columbia protests were "pre-feminist," that women were excluded from the decision-making process and that their roles were " arginalized." Of the sixty-three contributors to this volume, only 9 are women. Perhaps women are still marginalized. Tom Hurwitz, a Columbia SDS member, remembers that "women did not chair the meetings, but they spoke at them," and that while "equality, even as an ideal, was blurry at best we were in it together." Blurry indeed.
A Time to Sir is long on personal narratives and personal transformations, and short on analysis and theory. Still, there are some attempts at theory and analysis. Hurwitz writes that "in insurrectionary events, there is a kind of mass personality disorder" and that moods move back and forth from "ecstasy" to "abject fear and despair." Hurwitz saw both the ups and the downs at Columbia in 1968 and forty-three years later in Tahrir Square in Cairo "during the failed revolution" of 2011.