My project aims to help alumni and community members connect to the Stockton University of the Pacific campus by telling place-based stories about the university’s monuments and memorials.
I have started with Burns Tower, a central icon on campus. Visitors stop there first to collect information about campus, and community members recognize it as an icon representing Pacific’s elite education. From Nicole Mountjoy’s University of the Pacific and Phil Gilbertson’s Pacific on the Rise: The Story of California’s First University, I knew that the tower was the site of student protest in 1969. A protest led by the Black Student Union led to the formation of the Community Involvement Program (CIP). My archival research and research in university publications have offered additional insights.
It turns out that there was not one protest at Burns Tower during this tense period but at least two. In March of 1971, shortly after President Robert Burns had passed away, the university notified the newly hired head of the Mexican American Studies program (Miguel Navarrette) that his contract would not be renewed. The Mexican American Studies program was a recent addition to Pacific’s offerings and part of the larger agreement that the Burns administration and Academic Council had made following the 1969 student demands. Navarrette had been at Pacific only seven months and was accused of not advancing the program quickly enough. Students in the newly formed MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán) again protested at the tower.
These protests indicate the Pacific campus felt some of the social unrest that characterized neighboring campuses like UC Berkeley and San Francisco State during the late 1960s and early 1970s. University publications also reflect a period of change. The alumni newsletter noted with optimism that the fraternities no longer thought it was appropriate to parade with Confederate flags on campus. The campus newspaper ran regular editorials that alternately called out prejudice and exhibited the bigotry of students who feared an influx of Stockton students of color on “their” campus. Still, there was much support. A 1970 issue was devoted to describing the various organizations in support of social justice that had sprouted on campus, including the Black Student Union, MEChA, Yellow Seed, and PILIPI. One feature asked, “how does it feel to be Chicano at UOP?” Faculty minutes indicate overwhelming support for CIP but also a fear that the new students of color would need remediation. Doing what one faculty member regarded as the morally right thing, faculty offered to add to their teaching loads in order to tutor new students. The campus saw an expansion of ethnic studies classes and programs.
The chairman of MEChA during that year was Victor Ornelas who later served as a regent (2002-2008). Ornelas has agreed to participate in an oral history interview. So I have spent the last few days preparing to complete the interview. I will be asking him about these protests at Burns Tower. Were there others? What was the climate like on campus during the late 1960s and 1970s? I plan to include part of the interview on the website, using significant excerpts the way Cleveland Historical does to establish the presence of human experience in locations, and also index the interview and transcribe it for the University Archives oral history collection.