70th Anniversary, Special Projects

From demonstrations to decline: A history of student protests at Long Beach State

By Alexander Zepeda, Rachel Hanna and Alberto Nunez

Passionate students surrounded the Fine Arts-4 building at Long Beach State in 1968 as part of a campus protest intended to defend their right to free expression.

Cops soon arrived at the scene trying to tame the outraged students, arresting 42 in the process. This was the norm for protest culture at CSULB in the ‘60s.

This particular protest occurred after CSULB alumnus William Spater exhibited his nude sculptures. Many students thought of his art as freedom of expression. Protests to keep the artwork resulted in 42 student arrests. 

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Spater
Bill Spater speaking at a rally in May of 1968. He's telling students to be cautious of legislative intervention on campus. The rally was called after Chancellor Glenn S. Dumke canceled the Spater exhibit.

Daily Forty-Niner archives

Eventually, his artwork was allowed, but with some of the student protestors being arrested and tried, Spater was put into court to determine if his exhibit was legal. 

“When my sculptures were placed on the lawn in front of [Fine Arts 4], a large number of students sat inside a makeshift rope enclosure circling the art, immediately upon hearing why they were there,” Spater said. “The crowd rapidly grew until the police were called, arrest threatened—no one budged.”

According to a 1968 Daily Forty-Niner article, Glenn S. Dumke, chancellor of the California State University system during that time, barred Spater from displaying his work after the arts department had approved his exhibit. Dumke’s decision, along with the support of CSULB President Carl McIntosh, propelled unrest among the student body. 

According to the article, the cancellation of the Spater exhibit made students feel as if their freedom of expression was stripped away. Students began to protest.

The American Civil Liberties Union took over the Spater case to protect students’ freedom of expression. When the case was taken to court, it was held that displaying the exhibit outside of CSULB’s art department met the exhibition requirements set by the CSU.

“I don’t think this local change was because of my project,” Spater said. “Rather the product of inevitability and the times. Clearly, I was just the fool standing in the intersection when the culture bus ran me over.”

Michael Durand, a 1969 CSULB alumnus and adjunct professor at New York University, protested in the ‘60s against the Vietnam War. 

“It was our generation that was committed to fighting the war and the vast majority of young people at the time did not believe in it,” Durand said.

According to Durand, protests in the mid ‘60s were about how the U.S. government had young men and women fighting a pointless war.

“Protesting was probably the easiest way to express their outrage,” Durand said. “CSULB recognized that protestors had a legal right to express their views, and if it tried to curve free expression, it would have done more harm to the university.”

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PostingForProtest
(April 26, 1968)
A late 60's posting for a protest meeting fueled by anti-racist values. This pamphlet encouraged students of color to fight against the 'white-washing' of the CSULB administration.

Daily Forty-Niner archives

In the mid ‘60s, Long Beach was a conservative area and the majority of the citizens supported the Vietnam War. Durand said the Long Beach community regarded citizens who were protesting the war as “leftist hippies.”

“It was an invigorating time,” Durand said. “It was a time when a lot of us were coming together to form our adult thoughts. Looking back at it, I remember quite fondly, but many of the issues that we were concerned about back then remain and I think we just have to be conscious of what’s going on in the country and what’s going on in the world today.”

There were also protests at CSULB because of the killing of four students at Kent State University in 1970

“As a result of that, students around the country called strikes from Columbia University to Long Beach State,” Durand said.

Durand said that students are not protesting on campuses as much anymore due to digital outlets letting them voice their opinions. 

“There are more ways of people protesting or voicing their outrage through social media channels largely,” Durand said. “In the 1960s, there was no easy way of students communicating between themselves or policy makers, except writing letters and getting your feet dirty to protest.” 

When Donald Trump became president in 2016, Durand found it encouraging to see massive protests like the ones of the 1960s.

Other CSULB alumni like Andrew Gonzalez, who specializes in Vietnam-era demonstrations, said that the need for political protests like those in the ‘60s has come back. To him, protests are all about enacting positive change.

“While political tensions rise once more and the whispers of war start to increase in intensity the need for student protest becomes more clear,” Gonzalez said. “Many students today feel they aren’t being heard and the world isn’t willing to change, but I ask them to look back to their predecessors and see how much change we can make in the world.”

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