On May 20, 1968, a protest with far-reaching consequences occurred. Members of the Black Student Union staged a sit-in in the offices of University of Washington President Charles Odegaard. The sit-in did not result in arrests. Instead, the students left the office four hours and 15 minutes later with a series of agreements from the administration, including aggressive recruitment of minority and disadvantaged White students, the hiring of more staff and faculty of color, creation of a center on campus for the academic and cultural development of students of color, and the creation of a Black Studies department.
UW will commemorate 40 years of diversity efforts on the anniversary of the sit-in with an alumni and community celebration from noon to 5 p.m. in Red Square. The celebration is expected to draw representatives of 50 academic departments, as well as student organizations, which will talk about their own history of diversity. Ethnic food will be available and there will be music.
In 1968 only about four percent of the students at the UW were students of color; that compares with over 29 percent now. Of the 2,200 courses in 1968 in the arts and humanities, it was hard to identify a single course using a textbook written by a Black, Latino or Native American writer, according to Larry Gossett, King County Council member.
The creation of the Special Education Program (the precursor to today's Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity) in 1968, with a chief officer (vice president) reporting directly to the president, was unique for that time.
"The initial courageous act of a group of students in 1968 and the infrastructure that followed really changed the history of the university, the city, the state and the region in terms of diversity, access and leadership in the community," says Sheila Edwards Lange, vice president for minority affairs and vice provost for diversity.
The formal program begins at noon in the Walker-Ames Room of Kane Hall with a panel of former and current UW vice presidents for minority affairs and diversity, who will discuss the era, their legacy and the future. At 1:30 p.m., a panel of student leaders from different eras will discuss their perspectives on diversity. At 3:30 p.m. in Red Square, 900 students in the Educational Opportunity Program who have been named to the Dean's List in this academic year will be recognized. EOP students come from families of restricted means or have overcome educational challenges to qualify for admission to the UW. Presiding at this event will be UW President Mark Emmert and King County council member Larry Gossett, a member of the UW Black Student Union in 1968 and a co-chair of the 40 Year Celebration Community Advisory Committee. (The other co-chair is Samuel E. Kelley, UW professor emeritus and the UW's first vice president of minority affairs.)
An oral history of early diversity efforts is available on video at http://www.washington.edu/diversity/40Y. Titled "In Pursuit of Social Justice," it includes excerpts from interviews with 27 of people who were involved in the movement in 1968. More information on the celebration is at http://www.washington.edu/diversity/40Y.