Looking Back: The Write Stuff
From campus-related concerns such as parking, food, housing and academics, to issues of national and international importance, Millikin students advocating for change have made their voices heard for more than 114 years by writing letters to the editor in The Decaturian. Here is a snapshot of some of the issues on the minds of Millikin students over the course of one year, 1963:
“Let’s sing it out now — everybody with feeling — both songs: ‘Land of the free!’ ‘Hail our Alma Mater!’”
Many letters called for significant progress toward civil rights on campus. In March, several students pushed for immediate action on campus integration for Greek organizations. Others debated whether speaker seating at a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) program on the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation had been purposely segregated.
The largest flood of letters, however, came in response to a fall Dec editorial titled “Was The Freedom March Really Necessary? Did It Serve to Accomplish Any Purpose?” The lengthy and passionate responses to the editorial not only thoroughly explained the importance of the March on Washington to “impress upon Congress and Americans the intense feeling that exists for equality of rights and to awaken America into thinking and acting,” but decried Congress “postponing action on the civil rights bill again and again.” One letter made special note of how, through television coverage, the “mass protest was brought into almost every home in the nation,” forcing American citizens “to cope with a personal civil rights appeal rather than viewing ‘The Beverly Hillbillies.’”
“Must our clothing regulations be so prudish?”
As spring moved toward summer, several students advocated for a more liberal campus dress code. At the time, Bermuda shorts were not allowed in academic buildings or the dining room (except at Saturday breakfast and lunch). Women were only allowed to wear jeans, slacks or Bermudas in their dorms and sorority houses (though not in the living rooms), and in the library after 6:30 p.m. and on Saturdays. The only exceptions were art and lab classes, for which women were allowed to wear slacks and jeans at the instructor’s discretion. However, that attire was forbidden at all times in lower Liberal Arts Hall (today’s Shilling Hall).
The students called out these complicated rules as impractical and especially onerous for women, who often had to change clothes several times a day to keep up with them. Why should Bermudas be forbidden when current skirt-length fashions were just as short? In addition, they were not equally enforced; men wearing Bermudas to the cafeteria were often allowed to enter unpunished, but women were turned away.
“How many pickles could a poor pickle-plucking peon pluck from the penny-pinching people at the Pub?”
This letter, from “a provoked pickle lover,” called for elimination of extra condiment charges at the Sub.
Dec editorial policy required submitted letters to the editor be signed, but, upon publication, would withhold names at the author’s request. This resulted in additional student debate. Some felt that anonymity was cowardly, inspired neither credence nor respect, and encouraged malicious, personal attacks without repercussion. Others argued that it was the validity of the ideas put forth in the letters that was important, and that anonymity allowed for freer expression of ideas, especially on controversial issues.
Signed or anonymous, these letters give a fascinating glimpse into what has moved Millikin students to speak out over the years.
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