During the turbulent months of 1968, campus-wide discord was quickly growing. In a backlash against grass-stained hippy optimism, students across the United States were debating electric issues: a hot-potato presidential election, the recent assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the early arguments of pro-birth control feminist scholars.
Students at UR protested with their own trademark brand of irony, as the Brave New World celebration mixed both political activism and tongue-in-cheek counterculture.
As a May 3, 1968 article reports, several ad hoc groups, namely the Coalition for an Anarchist Alternative, the mysterious group Experiment ’84 and the inspiring Committee for Campus Euphoria hosted the extravagant carnival.
The Brave New World event began on Susan B. Anthony Residence Hill with a loud blast made by a paisley kilted bagpiper blowing into a conch shell. This signaled a march to the farther half of the academic quad where a crowd of anxious parents, emboldened students and irritated officers swirled. The event was scheduled to coincide with both Parents’ Weekend and a patriotic Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps parade placed closer to Rush Rhees library.
The politically charged carnival scene invited game players to skillfully shave balloons, play an ominous yet intriguing game called ‘pills” and roll their own fake marijuana joints. Participants were invited to a photo shoot featuring a ‘real, live hippy!” perhaps signaling the end of Woodstock-era hopefulness. Fortune tellers were on hand to offer dime-store insight into what must have surely seemed like a cloudy future.
The Brave New World festival culminated in a jaw-dropping auction; offerings included a six-foot Gulf Oil sign, a monkey cage (suitably roommate-sized), a parking meter and an empty beer keg, the last dregs of which spotted the trampled lawn.
The auction also featured an authentic signature of President Lyndon B. Johnson, perhaps a fitting statement about the selling of political consciousness. This all culminated in dancing outside the Strong Auditorium parking lot to the tunes of local band The Last Summer.
The anti-authority antics surely upset the NROTC squads, inspiring a tense scene as the Brave New World leaders made their radical intentions clear. Co-organizer Mark Markowitz referred to an edgy student revolt at Columbia University that had occurred only a month before.
‘As in previous years, we will provide an opportunity during the ROTC march for people to stand in silent vigil,” Markowtiz said. ‘We’re doing this instead of what they did at Columbia.”
As the Brave New World program testified, crowds gathering on our own library’s front lawn echoed the anti-establishment sentiments expressed worldwide.
As the temperature rose that charged summer of ’68, intercampus tensions sparked a heated confrontation as students faced off against both their military peers and their pressuring elders.
However, now on the River Campus, there isn’t nearly as much war-time protest. In fact, we don’t have much at all. The war days today are very different than 1968.
The exciting days are behind us.
Titus is a member of the class of 2011.