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sotoWith Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings getting underway this morning, now seems like as good a time as any to revisit the Supreme Court nominee’s past as a student activist.

The Daily Princetonian has posted seven letters and articles by or about Sotomayor from her undergraduate days, and taken together they reveal her to be a committed advocate for Latinos and Latinas on campus, an opponent of anti-gay violence, and as the recipient of the university’s highest undergraduate honor for her “dedication to the life of minority students at Princeton.”

In a May 10, 1974 letter, Sotomayor explained a complaint filed by “the Puerto Rican and Chicano students of Princeton” alleging “an institutional pattern of discrimination” at the university. In it she noted that there were then only 31 Puerto Rican and 27 Chicano students enrolled at Princeton, and rebuked the university for its “total absence of regard, concern and respect for an entire people and their culture.” (Sotomayor is quoted in two Daily Princetonian articles on the complaint as well.)

In a letter published on September 12, 1974, Sotomayor and five other student advisors to a search for a new assistant dean for student affairs laid out their criticism of the lack of direct student involvement in the search and the racial and ethnic dynamics of the process. (Sotomayor is quoted directly on the controversy here.)

In a group letter from February 27, 1976, Sotomayor and 38 other members of the campus community condemned the recent vandalism of a dorm room that was home to two students active in the Gay Alliance of Princeton.

And on February 28, 1976, it was announced that Sotomayor was one of two co-recipients of Princeton’s M. Taylor Pine Honor Prize, “the highest honor the university confers on an undergraduate.” The Princetonian article on the honor referred to Sotomayor as having “maintained almost straight A’s for the last two years, but” being “especially known for her extracurricular activities.” (The photo at above right accompanied this article.) A follow-up piece two days later noted that Sotomayor was the first Latino student to win the award.

The United States Student Association’s 62nd annual National Student Congress opens at the University of Colorado at Boulder in eleven days.

USSA, founded in 1947, is the nation’s oldest national student group, and its pre-eminent student government organization. I got my start in national student organizing in USSA, and I’m always thrilled to go back.

This year, I’ll be running a workshop, co-facilitating the Congress’s people of color “allies space,” and lending a hand in various other ways over the course of the week.

I’ll have more to say about the allies space later, and I’ll be blogging (and tweeting) from the Congress once I get there. In the meantime, here’s the title and description of my workshop, scheduled for Thursday, July 23rd, at two o’clock:

Media and Social Networking for Student Activism, Past and Present
Long before the creation of the internet, campus organizers were social networkers. What can their strategies teach today’s activists, and how can today’s students use new media and online networking to advance their work? This workshop, led by historian, activist, and blogger Angus Johnston, will explore the role of technology, media, and human contact in historical and contemporary student organizing.

Media and Social Networking for Student Activism, Past and Present

Long before the creation of the internet, campus organizers were social networkers. What can their strategies teach today’s activists, and how can today’s students use new media and online networking to advance their work? This workshop, led by historian, activist, and blogger Angus Johnston, will explore the role of technology, media, and human contact in historical and contemporary student organizing.

Hope to see you there!

I’m going to be speaking at a media conference at Hunter College this Saturday, as part of a panel called “Media for Student Activism: Building Networks, Building Movements.”

The NYC Grassroots Media Conference will feature more than forty panels in four sessions, on subjects ranging from managing online communities to queer youth media. It’s going to be an amazing conference, and student registration is only fifteen bucks!

I’m really excited about our panel too. It’s called Media for Student Activism: Building Networks, Building Movements, and I’ll be talking about Twitter and blogs. We’ve also got a documentarian, a Labor Studies prof, and two undergraduate student activists on board, each of whom will be bringing something of their own to the group.

More on the panel (and the conference) later this week.

The Iowa Daily published a front-page article yesterday on the arrest records of the members of the University of Iowa Student Government.

The article, which was based on public records searches, reported that ten UISG members “have criminal charges other than traffic violations,” mostly citations for underage drinking or public intoxication.

The article names four of the ten offenders, providing details of the records of each:

  • The SGUI vice president, who picked up a public intoxication charge last year.
  • A senator who has seven infractions on his record, five of them for public intoxication.
  • A senator with six infractions, including two charges for using false ID to obtain alcohol.
  • A senator with two underage drinking charges and one for theft.

Not all of these charges have resulted in convictions or pleas — the article notes that at least one case is currently pending.

The article suggests that this information raises a “question for UI officials — along with current and former UISG members” as to “how much those tickets affect representatives’ credibility and ability to lead the students.”

Caption reads: "February 3, 1964 -- Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson and daughter, Lynda hosted USNSA-USSPA sponsored 6th Annual College Editors Conference at a reception in the White House. Pictured above are (from left to right) Miss Lynda B. Johnson, Mr. Roger Ebert, President USSPA, Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson, and Mr. Gregory M. Gallo, President USNSA."

Before he was a movie critic, Roger Ebert was a student journalist. He wrote for the University of Illinois Daily Illini as an undergraduate, serving as the paper’s editor in his senior year.

Ebert also served a term as president of the United States Student Press Association, a national association of student newspaper editors affiliated with the National Student Association that supported campus media and advocated for student press freedom. As president of the USSPA, Ebert was invited to the White House reception at which the above photograph was taken.

March 18 update | Hello, Roger Ebert twitter-followers! To answer Roger’s questions, I found the above photo, I found it in the US National Student Association archives in Madison, Wisconsin, and I discovered it in the course of researching my dissertation on the Association. I’m heading off to teach right now, but I’ll post more details later. In the meantime, feel free to poke around. (If you want an update when I post more, you can follow me on Twitter at @studentactivism.)

March 19 update | I can’t seem to put my hands on the original of the photo right now, but it comes from a USNSA newsletter of some kind, probably the NSA News. The National Student Association was a generally liberal confederation of student governments that served as one of the incubators of sixties radicalism — many of the early leaders of Students for a Democratic Society met each other at NSA conferences, for instance, and NSA gave crucial early funding and support to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. (Until 1967 NSA itself received gobs of secret cash from the CIA, which made extensive and varied use of its international operations.)

One thing I love about the photo is how perfectly it situates Roger in the history of student organizing. It, like Ebert’s work as an advocate for student press freedoms, is emphatically of the sixties — what with him being flanked by LBJ’s wife and daughter and all. But its buttoned-up, stilted formality isn’t remotely of The Sixties. That Sixties, the Sixties of popular myth, lasted maybe four or five years, but it grew out of an earlier, murkier era — the era of Mad Men and the Free Speech Movement and Freedom Summer, an era in which a student activist who clambered up onto a police car to make a speech would take his shoes off first, to avoid doing any damage. It’s a historical moment that I’m fascinated by and more than a little smitten with, and it’s a moment that this photo captures beautifully.

Oh, yeah — I do have one more piece of trivia about Roger and the NSA. As he himself wrote in a blog post a couple of months ago, it was at the Association’s 1964 summer Congress, just five months after this photo was taken, that Roger Ebert “experienced the joy of intercourse with a female undergraduate for the first time.”

Go read that post, by the way. It’s a lovely one.

About This Blog

n7772graysmall
StudentActivism.net is the work of Angus Johnston, a historian and advocate of American student organizing.

To contact Angus, click here. For more about him, check out AngusJohnston.com.
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