Possibilities and Responsibility: Villanova in the 1960s

Villanova in the 1960s- it was a very different place. Women were only accepted into the nursing school prior to 1968. The Pit was the only Dining Hall. The Student Government was elected by delegates until reformed into the current SGA in 1967. The Villanovan was an exceptionally anti-establishment publication. And across the board, people were angry.

Villanova was in a relatively unique position during this time. Like college campuses throughout the country, students were reacting to a variety of political and cultural changes. At the same time, they were influenced by changes in the Catholic Church such as The Second Vatican Council. This led to something of tumultuous time for Villanova students. The protests throughout the country gave students a sense of courage and anger, and affected their experience at Villanova. They were upset about all types of issued: the quality of food, forced morality, the lack of an intellectual environment, individual rights, and national issues. Villanova students did not simply take issue with these problems: they did something about them.

Each aspect of Villanova that students found oppressive or offensive was protested and, unsurprisingly, eventually changed. Rules regarding parietals, dress code, and religion were loosened and life at Villanova began to offer more room for development, growth, and creativity among their students. It is also important to note that students at this time were incredibly focused on their own education both in and out of their classes. One significant change was to the Villanova Bookstore, which had previously only sold school textbooks. There was a significant push to encourage the bookstore to offer other intellectual publications that would enrich student learning. It was for this reason that the current bookstore in Kennedy Hall was opened.

The most interesting developments, however, were the Student Rights Protests. In 1968, one of the most revolutionary years in American history, the SGA wrote a Student Bill of Rights which, among other things, called for student awareness of all financial decisions. It was a significant stretch of time before this the administration adopted this measure, and it sparked years of anger throughout the Villanova community. Eventually, student class president Richard Brown actually sued the university along with 11 other students for violations of freedom of speech and unfair expulsion. Through student action, each concern that was raised was addressed and eventually changed and adopted within the student community.

While most Villanova protests focused on local issues, it is also important to note that the students did have some involvement with more national protests. Like the rest of the country, they valiantly fought with environmental issues, the Vietnam War, and racial tensions. On January 20, 1965, a day memorialized in the Connelly Center today, Martin Luther King Jr. came to speak to four thousand people tightly packed in the field house (these were the days before the Pavilion). Another thousand students were turned away.

As a whole, 1960s students were involved in their school. This does not mean that they participated in several clubs and had busy schedules. Rather, they took a genuine interest in their education and their community and strove to solve the problems they faced.
How does this compare to students today? An honest look at the student body shows a distinct change in the students from this era. SGA and the Villanovan, while both reputable and admirable institutions, are more focused on working in conjunction with the administration rather than in opposition. The bookstore, which students once fought for, has returned to simply selling required texts and nobody is concerned. Last year, there were four political organizations on campus. However, both the College Democrats and the College Libertarians have disbanded for the 2013-2014 school year. Parietal rules are consistently broken and complained about, but no action is taken to reform them. The greatest school wide rebellion seems to be our general refusal to refer to that trail to South Campus the “Wildcat Path.”

There are several reasons for this. First of all, Villanova is a better place to be today than it was 50 years ago. The professors and administration are more willing to work with students and help build a better university. Father Peter Donahue is more interested in aiding students in a holistic college experience than was his predecessor Father Edward McCarthy. This is largely due to the work and sacrifice of those students who protested and occupied Villanova’s halls and offices during the 1960s and 1970s. With this acknowledgement comes a certain responsibility; students in the past were able to make legitimate changes because they didn’t accept problems. Instead, they took action. Students today have a responsibility towards similar involvement and work. Villanova should be an even better place for the students of 2060 than it is today.

For more information about Villanova’s History, check out Villanova University, 1842-1992: American-Catholic-Augustinian by David Contasta, available at Falvey Memorial Library.

By Maggie Lamb


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