uncsitinI’m still looking for more news on the windup and aftermath of the campus occupation that ended yesterday at the University of California at Santa Cruz, but in the meantime I want to clear something up.

In an article published yesterday in City on a Hill Press, a UCSC student newspaper, one of the students sitting in at the Graduate Commons building said that UCSC had just “broken a record for longest student occupation of a building to take place in America post-1960s.”  A couple of days ago, an occupation spokesperson made a slightly less extravagant version of the claim, saying that the Commons sit-in was “one of the longest student occupations in many, many years.”

So is it true? Was the UCSC occupation the longest campus building takeover since the heyday of student activism in the sixties?

Well, no. Here are five that were longer, one of which — the UNC sweatshop sit-in pictured above — happened just a year and a half ago:

  1. At Harvard in 2001, a sit-in demanding that university employees be paid a living wage lasted for three weeks.
  2. Another living wage sit-in, this one at Washington University in 2005, lasted for eighteen days.
  3. In May of last year, students protesting the University of North Carolina’s ties to sweatshop garment makers occupied the lobby of their administration building for sixteen days.
  4. In 1989, students occupied the administration building at Wayne State University for either eleven or twelve days in response to racist incidents on campus.
  5. The Afrikan Student Union at Ohio State University occupied the offices of the campus president for eight days in 1998 in protest of proposed changes in the Office of Minority Affairs.

Claims that a certain protest was the biggest, or longest, or most dramatic, since the sixties are common, and almost always wrong. They’re common because we think of the sixties as being the last time there was a real student movement in the United States, and they’re wrong because their conception of the history of American student activism is wrong.

I knew about a couple of the campus protests listed above before I sat down to write this post, but most of them I uncovered by Googling. They don’t add up to anything like a comprehensive list of the last few decades’ multi-week campus sit-ins. They represent a small slice of a story that’s mostly gone untold in recent years — the story of American students’ persistent ongoing local campus organizing. I mention them not to mock the UCSC folks or belittle their protest, but because the more activists know about past struggles, the better equipped they’ll be to take on the future.