Looking Back: Students Seize Oakland

It’s March in 1969, and 400 students have taken over Oakland University for eight hours, preventing the normal function of the campus.

It began with a group of 30 students occupying North Foundation Hall during the administrative morning coffee break. Students closed off some entrances with boards, wire, desks and by standing together with locked arms.

The Oakland Observer, the student newspaper at the time, attempted to locate a sole student leader of the protests. Students inside said that they were all “leaders,” and could not have one person speak for everyone.

“We believe that in a true community, certain people would not be picked out as leaders and others as followers. We all want to be heard,” one dissenting student said.

This uprising was not planned but rather a spontaneous venture of the 400 student participants. It began with a small group of students walking out on a class in apparent disgust.

“The experience in there was intolerable,” one of these students said. “It occurred to me that someone was forcing me to live my life in a way I didn’t want it to be lived. So I left.”

The other students who left traveled through the Oakland Center, soon gathering more and more “alienated” students to help them “liberate” the school.

By 10 a.m., this group entered NFH and began their takeover.

By 10:30 a.m., administrators had no way into their offices and, according to the Observer article, “wandered about in a quandary.”

One of these administrators said this had never happened to them before, and they had no idea how to respond to this.

“We’ve always been good to our students,” one said. The Observer inquired whether or not student action “hurt the feelings” of these administrators.

“They always looked so happy,” the professor said. “And now this. It just doesn’t make sense.”

Chancellor Duward Varner decided not to call in outside police forces to remove the students, and instead made a committee to decide how to handle the matter. Soon enough, the administrators realized including student voices on said committee would be difficult with many of the student leaders locked inside of NFH.

Soon after realizing this, the Department of Public Safety was called, but didn’t immediately make any arrests because they couldn’t figure out which laws, if any, were being broken. However, if students parked their cars illegally, they were still ticketed as normal.

“Those kids will just never learn where they are supposed to park,” one officer told the Observer. Today, this message still is applicable.

Despite these tickets, there were no arrests made.

By 1 p.m., some of the students broke off into smaller groups, going around campus and disrupting lectures and spreading “joy.”

One disruptor had a message as to why they were protesting in the first place. “We demand that the university serve all the people, not just corporate interests… It means [the administration] will have to start ‘administrating,’ rather than ruling.”

Soon, a faculty group was formed, dubbed the “Faculty for a Democratic Society.” They passed around a petition to convince students to return to class.

It didn’t work. Instead, around dinner time, students willingly left to get a meal in Vandenberg Hall.

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