Echoes from the Classroom

By Jaye Cee Whitehead '00

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I heard echoes of 1968 in the basement of Marsh Hall. As a student I remember coming to the first day of First Year Seminar (FYS) in 1996, having read "One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest" as our summer text. I browsed through the syllabus wondering how we could possibly have an entire class on civil disobedience and the civil rights movement. Was there really that much to it? What I feared would be a torrential downpour of successive facts and dates, turned out to be one of the most empowering classes I experienced at Pacific.

As a first-generation college student, looking back on the historical traces of 1968 was the first time that I realized the unique role of the university student as the conscience of civil society. At least 18 of my FYS colleagues and I set out to experience a college education in order to get a career that paid well and required the least amount of effort. We wanted to have an answer for the nagging questions that parents loved to ask during Thanksgiving break: "Have you decided on a major yet?"; "What will a major in sociology really do for you?"; "How will you make a living as a volunteer?"

However, Professor Bob Van Dyk made us question our career goals and motivations for entering college. Bob read to us about members of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) at Columbia University in 1968. Those students seemed to be having an experience that went far beyond personal gain and career; they were attempting to change the world by being the conscience of the university. Members of the SDS at Columbia took their roles as citizens of a university seriously enough to occupy university buildings and even kidnap Dean Henry Coleman in an effort to end what they saw as Columbia's support of the war in Vietnam.

Studying student protests in the Sixties left many of my cohorts with a distinct sense that it was our job as university students to revolt and speak up for social justice. As "traditional" students, many only responsible for ourselves, we felt the kind of buzz that makes political action possible: it felt as if this was a point in our lives where we had the most freedom with the least responsibility. While we never found it necessary to take Dean Beck hostage at Pacific, many of us made the local community and national politics our business. Some of us spent the next three years engaged in meaningful activity beyond extending our own human capital. Like our student predecessors, we volunteered at El Centro Cultural in Cornelius, studied local deforestation, and worked along with local farm workers struggling for decent working conditions.

Instead of simply seeing college as a career training program, we felt a kind of efficacy and responsibility echoed by students in 1968.


Jaye Cee Whitehead '00 was recently appointed assistant professor of sociology at Pacific after a year as a visiting professor. She received a doctorate in sociology from the University of California, Berkeley in 2007.