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Department of Sociology Features in New Exhibit "A Campus Divided"

August 11, 2017

Now through November 30, the University of Minnesota Libraries’ new exhibit, “A Campus Divided: Progressives, Anticommunists, Racism and Antisemitism at the University of Minnesota 1930-1942”, brings to life an especially troubled time in the University’s history. For years the University's administration mandated a series of political, racial, and economic sanctions, effectively suppressing dissent, subverting policy and immobilizing change. Despite these efforts, a diverse group of students and community activists banded together to fight for equality and demand justice. They would make history.

History, of course, has the habit of making the universal personal, and the Department of Sociology is no exception. In 1936, Sociology lecturer and Farmer-Labor party member Donald Lester was terminated from his position for teaching what was then described by Sociology Chair Stuart Chapin as "orthodox Marxism", a certfiable teaching offense at the time. Despite Lester's insistence to the contrary, neither Chapin or President Lotus Coffman were convinced, and Lester soon left the University for good. 
Sociology faculty member Malcolm Willey, on the other hand, was a curious combination of both enforcer and champion. Working his way up to the role of Dean in President Coffman’s administration, he not only encouraged student paper The Minnesota Daily to avoid covering peace demonstrations, he also actively enforced the University's segregated housing policy. In an interesting about face, Willey would later author the principles of Academic Freedom instituted by President Guy Stanton Ford.

Fortunately, Sociology also had its agents of change. In the mid-1930s, Sociology graduate student and first president of the Negro Student Council Arnold Walker led the movement to end segregated housing. From 1931 to 1938, Walker fought tirelessly along such allies as the campus YMCA and YWCA, student government, and the NAACP, claiming victory at last when President Ford reversed the policy, only to have President Coffey institute another form of segregation shortly after. Walker later went on to lead the Cleveland Urban League from 1945-1959.

Sociology is just one of the many departments to have played a role in the University’s storied and complex history. We encourage you to join the upcoming discussion “Reflections on A Campus Divided” to explore this shared history and work together towards a more inclusive future. Join panelists and co-curators Riv-Ellen Prell, Professor Emerita of American Studies, and Sarah Atwood, Ph.D. candidate in American Studies, along with John Wright, Professor of African American & African Studies and English for this important event on Wednesday, September 13, 5:30 to 7:00pm, in Room 120 of the Elmer L. Andersen Library.

For more information and to register, please see the University of Minnesota Libraries’ Events page.