50 Years Later

Half a century has passed since the Spring ’68 student uprising. CCT looks at what happened then, and how those protests can help us understand our world right now. 

David Finck ’70

Last fall, CCT’s editors sat down to consider how best to commemorate the half-centennial of Spring ’68. Its anniversary has been noted at key milestones through the decades, but this year in particular felt different. Or rather, felt similar. We are a divided nation at this moment, in many ways. Young people are regularly protesting again, on topics such as free speech, immigration, LGBTQ rights, women’s issues and gun control. We decided to take the opportunity to examine what has changed since 1968 — and what hasn’t.

We requested perspective from writer and former CCT editor-in-chief Jamie Katz ’72, BUS’80, and Paul Starr ’70, a reporter for Spectator in 1968 and later its editor-in-chief, who today is a professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton. Katz’s piece, “A Tinderbox, Poised To Ignite” revisits the animating passions of that time, and Starr’s “How the ’68 Uprising Looks Today” offers a big-picture comparison between 1968 and 2018.

When CCT marked the 40th anniversary in 2008, then–editor-in-chief Alex Sachare ’71 warned readers not to take any one account of Spring ’68 as gospel, and the same holds true now. People will always look at historic events through their own prism. There could be 100 different accounts of Spring ’68 and they could all be true — or mostly true. Katz opted to emphasize the role of the black students who occupied Hamilton Hall, which he believes has been underplayed. Starr’s analysis is based on his expertise as a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and professor, not as a soothsayer. Readers interested in more information can consider a number of accounts published in earlier issues of CCT as well as books such as Up Against the Ivy Wall: A History of the Columbia Crisis, by Jerry L. Avorn ’69 and members of the Spectator news staff (Starr among them); The Strawberry Statement: Notes of a College Revolutionary, by James Simon Kunen ’70; Crisis at Columbia, by Harvard law professor Archibald Cox; and Paul Cronin JRN’14’s new anthology, A Time to Stir: Columbia ’68.

—Jill C. Shomer