When Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan passed away I kept seeing all of these syrupy tributes and wondered if anyone will remember the student takeover that he inspired at Vassar College in 1990. I was there so I’ll tell you about it. Here’s my photo album with a bunch of pictures from the event.
In February of 1990, the President of Vassar College, Frances Fergusson, named Senator Patrick Moynihan to a special “Humanitarian Chair”. The Senator made a trip to the Vassar Campus and in a questionable state of sobriety, made an unintelligible speech and then attended a reception in his honor. Meanwhile, students taking Africana Studies Courses on Campus had just discussed the Senator’s “Moynihan Report” on the state of the African American Community in the 60’s, which is regarded perpetuating racist views and blaming the victim mentality.
At the reception, a Vassar professor (incidentally from Jamaica) questioned him about the report and he responded by (according to many witnesses) taking the woman by both shoulders, shaking her, and telling her that if she didn’t like it here in America, “Why don’t you go back to where you came from!” This did not go over well with the students. Several Vassar student groups organized a meeting in the Campus Chapel to decide what action should be taken in response to the matter. It was decided by the attending students that a student takeover of Main Building was warranted in order to gain some attention to needs of the students and raise the awareness of an administration that was clearly out-of-touch with the very politics the school itself purposed to support.On February 15th, 1990 Vassar College woke up to a campus in chaos. Students shut blocked the entrance to Main Building, making it impossible for all workers to go to their jobs. Students also were positioned at the doors of every academic building ready to deter students from going to class and shut the entire school down. This created a lot of debate and chaos. Not to mention major media coverage. Food was shuttled into Main building to the students occupying it- and a list of demands was drawn up. The press arrived (including CNN) and interviewed student leaders. After several days, the students and administration signed an agreement and the campus returned to normal functioning. The fallout from this action was felt for a long time. Many students felt that they were being kept from the education they had paid for by radicals who did not represent them. The residents of Main Building were particularly miffed at being kept out of/sealed inside their dorm. In general, I believe it was the beginning of the end of the unquestioned acceptance of “political correctness” and I believe Vassar as an institution has made a concerted effort in their admissions policies to keep things like this from happening again. It was several years before the administration finally conceded to the students’ most important demand of building an Intercultural Center on the Vassar Campus. The legacy of the Takeover lives on at Vassar, and I hope these memories I had tucked away in a photo album are appreciated.
For those of you that were there, there’s a Facebook group you can join called 1990 Vassar student occupation of Main Building