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Guide to the Activism at The New School oral history program, 2019

Collection Overview

Repository

New School Institutional Collections

Collection Identifier

NS.07.01.04

Creator - Interviewee

Jaffe, Naomi

Creator - Interviewee

Levine, Ellen G.

Creator - Interviewee

Levine, Stephen K.

Creator - Interviewee

Rai, Amit, 1968-

Creator - Interviewer

Robinson-Sweet, Anna

Creator - Interviewee

Salutin, Rick

Creator - Interviewee

Townson, Jo

Title

Activism at The New School oral history program

Extent

4.86 gb: 5 digital audio files; 7:19:43 duration; 5 PDF transcripts

Language of Materials

English

Summary

The Activism at The New School oral history program, initiated in 2019, documents touchstone moments of activism on The New School’s campus from the perspective of students, faculty, and staff who participated in these movements. The program focuses on the past fifty years of activism at The New School. As of August 2019, interviews have been conducted with activists from the late 1960s/early 1970s anti-Vietnam War movement, and with members of the 1996-1997 Mobilization for Real Diversity, Democracy, and Economic Justice at The New School.

Preferred Citation note

[Identification of item], [date (if known)], Activism at The New School oral history program, NS.07.01.04, New School Archives and Special Collections, The New School, New York, New York.

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Historical Note

The New School for Social Research was founded in 1919 as an institution of higher education devoted to adult learning. In 1933, the New School for Social Research established the Graduate Faculty of Political and Social Science. Over time, new schools and divisions were created and incorporated into The New School, among them the Parsons School of Design in 1970 and an undergraduate program now known as Eugene Lang College, formally established in 1985. In 2005, the Graduate Faculty took on the name of the founding division and became The New School for Social Research. The division dedicated to adult education is, as of 2019, part of the Schools of Public Engagement. As of 2015, The New School refers to the overall university, which has five divisions: The New School for Social Research (formerly the Graduate Faculty), The Schools of Public Engagement, Parsons School of Design, College of Performing Arts, and Eugene Lang College.

In May of 1970, students at the Graduate Faculty organized a strike to protest the expansion of the United States war against Vietnam into Cambodia. Many of these students were active members of The New School's Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) chapter and had participated in anti-war protests on and off-campus. These were the demands of the students, as outlined in a flier for the 1970 strike:

We strike The New School in solidarity with the National University Strike and its three national demands: an end to the war in Asia; an end to the oppression and murders at home; an end to the prostitution of the universities in the service of these wars. In particular we demand removal of Ellsworth Bunker, Nixon ambassador and advisor on invasions, as an honorary New School trustee. [1]

The New School's president at the time, John R. Everett, and many faculty members initially expressed support for the strikers, but when the strike expanded to include an occupation of The New School's Graduate Faculty building at 65 Fifth Avenue, that support waned. On May 17, 1970 President Everett obtained a court injunction to remove students from the building and on May 25 Everett brought the police in to remove protesters who remained in the building.

The same building would again be occupied by activists at The New School in 1997 as part of the Mobilization for Real Diversity, Democracy, and Economic Justice. The Mobilization (sometimes referred to as "the Mobe") was a coalition of activists at The New School fighting for diversity and equity at the university. The Mobilization began in 1996 with student outcry over The New School's decision not to offer a popular professor, M. Jacqui Alexander, a contract extension. Alexander is an Afro-Carribbean, feminist scholar who was a member of the Graduate Faculty from 1994-1997. Her teachings on gender, sexuality, race, and class inspired many of the students who started the Mobilization. The students and faculty in the Mobilization engaged in an intersectional critique of The New School, arguing that the struggles of people of color, women, and members of the LGBTQ community at the university were linked. They demanded pay equity, wage increases for security guards, a more diverse curriculum, and the hiring and retention of more faculty of color, including Alexander. The Mobilization held numerous protests throughout the 1996-1997 academic year, including an occupation of the Graduate Faculty building. Their movement culminated in a hunger strike by students and faculty that lasted over two weeks. M. Jacqui Alexander and many other leaders in the Mobilization did not return for the 1997 school year.

[1] Student strike flier, 1970, John Everett records, NS.01.01.02, unprocessed collection, New School Archives, New York, New York

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Biographical Note

Participant Biographies

Naomi Jaffe
Naomi Jaffe (b. 1943) is an Albany-based anti-incarceration activist. Jaffe was raised in Sullivan County, New York in a community of leftist Jewish chicken farmers. Her father was a farmer and her mother was an elementary school teacher. Her brother left the United States in 1967 to avoid being drafted to fight in the Vietnam War. He went on to lead the Toronto Anti-Draft Programme. Jaffe attended Monticello High School and then Brandeis University, in Waltham, Massachusetts, graduating in 1965 with a degree in sociology. After a year of community organizing in Syracuse, New York, Jaffe moved to New York City in the fall of 1966 to pursue a PhD in sociology at The New School. In New York, Jaffe became involved in the Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell (WITCH) and Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), participating in major anti-war protests such as the occupation at Columbia University and the Ms. America Pageant protest in Atlantic City, both in 1968. In 1969, Jaffe joined a revolutionary offshoot of the SDS, the Weather Underground Organization (WUO). In 1970, following the premature detonation of a bomb by the WUO at a Greenwich Village townhouse in which three people were killed, Jaffe “went underground.” She lived in hiding and continued to be active in WUO, which planted bombs in locations they saw as symbols of American violence. In 1978 Jaffe became one of the last members of the WUO to come up from the underground. Since resurfacing she has continued her activism, particularly around issues concerning anti-incarceration and criminal justice reform. She is the former executive director of Holding Our Own, a social justice organization based in Albany, New York that advances feminist social and economic change.
Ellen Levine
Ellen (née Greenglass) Levine is an artist and expressive arts therapist based in Toronto, Ontario. Ellen was raised in Newton, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. She studied philosophy at Wheaton College, a liberal arts college in Massachusetts, graduating in 1968. After graduating, she enrolled in the University of Chicago’s social work program, but dropped out in 1968 to pursue a PhD in philosophy at The New School. Ellen met her husband, Steve, at The New School, where he was pursuing a post-doctoral PhD in anthropology. In 1971, the couple relocated to Toronto where Ellen completed a PhD in social and political thought at York University. She also studied, and graduated from, the Toronto Child Psychotherapy program and the Toronto Art Therapy Institute. Along with Steve, she founded the International School for Interdisciplinary Studies Canada in Toronto, a three-year training program in expressive arts therapy. Ellen and Steve were also involved in the establishment of the European Graduate School and continue to serve on the school's core faculty. Ellen is Senior Staff Social Worker at the Hincks-Dellcrest Centre for Children's Mental Health in Toronto and a painter whose work has been exhibited in Canada and the United States. She and Steve have two children.
Steve Levine
Stephen (“Steve”) Levine (b. 1938) is an expressive arts therapist and scholar based in Toronto, Ontario. Steve was born into a lower-middle class Jewish family and grew up in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. Steve attended college at the University of Pennsylvania, where he majored in oriental studies and edited the Pennsylvania Literary Magazine. In 1962, he enrolled in The New School’s philosophy doctoral program, studying phenomenology. In 1967, after a short-lived teaching appointment at Duquesne University in Pittsburg, Steve returned to The New School in 1968 to pursue a post-doctoral PhD in anthropology. He met his wife, Ellen, during this second stint at The New School. In 1971, Steve received an appointment to teach in an interdisciplinary program at York University in Toronto. In Toronto, Steve and Ellen became involved in integrative psychotherapy and both taught psychoanalytic theory at Toronto Art Therapy Institute. The couple cofounded the International School for Interdisciplinary Studies Canada in Toronto, a training program in expressive arts therapy, and were involved in the establishment of the European Graduate School (EGS) in 1996. The pair continue to be core faculty at EGS and the Create Institute. Steve retired, professor emeritus, from York in 2004. He and Ellen have two children.
Amit Rai
Amit S. Rai (b. 1968) is a Senior Lecturer of New Media and Communication at the School of Business and Management, Queen Mary, University of London. Prior to joining the faculty at Queen Mary, Rai taught at Goldsmiths, Florida State University, and Eugene Lang College at The New School. Rai was born in India and immigrated with his family to the United States at a young age. He grew up primarily in Southern California. Rai received his BA from Georgetown University and his PhD in modern thought and literature from Stanford University. Throughout his academic career, Rai has been involved in activism. During his time at The New School, he was a part of the Mobilization for Real Diversity, Democracy, and Economic Justice, a student-led protest movement around issues of diversity and economic justice at the university. He is the author of three books: Rule of Sympathy: Race, Sentiment, Power 1760-1860 (2002), Untimely Bollywood: Globalization and India’s New Media Assemblage (2009), and Jugaad Time: Ecologies of Everyday Hacking in India (2019.)
Anna Robinson-Sweet
Anna Robinson-Sweet (b. 1988) is an archivist at The New School Archives and Special Collections. Prior to joining The New School Archives in 2018, Robinson-Sweet worked at the Weeksville Heritage Center in Brooklyn and the Whitney Museum of American Art. Robinson-Sweet has also worked as a community and union organizer, and continues to be an activist in the prison and police abolition movement. She holds an MLIS from Simmons University and a BA in art from Yale University.
Rick Salutin
Rick Salutin (b. 1942) is a Toronto-based writer. Salutin grew up in the Forest Hill Village neighborhood of Toronto, Ontario. Following his primary and secondary education in local public schools, he completed a year of undergraduate study at the University of Toronto and York University and then transferred to Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He graduated from Brandeis with a degree in Near Eastern and Judaic studies in 1964. He went on to pursue graduate work, enrolling in a joint doctoral program in religious studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary and Columbia University in New York, simultaneously studying at the Union Theological Seminary. Salutin left his work in religious studies in the mid-1960s and transferred to The New School as a doctoral candidate in philosophy in 1967. He was a member of The New School chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) as well as an active participant in the 1970 university strike at The New School. Following the strike, Salutin moved back to Toronto and began a career in writing. He is the author of numerous novels, plays, and non-fiction works. Salutin’s writing has earned many awards, including the Chalmers Award for Best Canadian Play in 1977 for Les Canadiens, W.H. Smith-Books in Canada Best First Novel Award in 1988 for A Man of Little Faith, and a 1993 National Newspaper Award for best newspaper columnist. Salutin is a columnist for The Toronto Star and teaches a course in Canadian studies at the University of Toronto.
Jo Townson
Jo Townson is a public health consultant and alumna of Eugene Lang College. She graduated from Lang in 1997 with a BA in urban studies and cultural studies and has an MS from the Education and Online Teaching and Learning program at California State University, East Bay. Townson grew up in the Bay Area of California and moved to New York in the early 1990s. While a student at Lang, Townson was involved in the Mobilization, a student-led protest calling for economic justice and diversity at the university. Following her studies at Lang, Townson worked at Clio Visualizing History, an educational organization dedicated to public history. Thereafter, she returned to California, taking a position at the James Redford Institute for Transplant Awareness, a not-for-profit focused on creating awareness around organ donation. Subsequently, she has held a variety of positions in public health. Townson is currently a senior consultant in Clinical Education at Kaiser Permanente; she lives in Oakland, California with her family.

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Scope and Content of Collection

The Activism at The New School oral history program documents touchstone moments of activism on The New School’s campus from the perspective of students, faculty, and staff who participated in these movements. The program focuses on the past fifty years of student activism at The New School. As of August 2019, interviews have been conducted with activists from the late 1960s/early 1970s anti-Vietnam War movement, and with members of the 1996-1997 Mobilization for Real Diversity, Democracy, and Economic Justice at The New School.

This oral history program was initiated in 2018 to fill in the gaps in documentation held by The New School Archives on campus protest. The New School is known for its progressive politics and culture of dissent, and while this history is amply represented in The New School Archives from the perspective of the school's administration, the Archives has relatively sparse documentation of campus activism from the student perspective. The Activism at The New School oral history program seeks to fill this gap in the Archives’ collections while focusing on the personal experiences of those who experienced and took part in activism at The New School.

Narrators who participated in the 1970 student occupation of the Graduate Faculty building in protest of the Vietnam War were identified through research conducted by Anna Robinson-Sweet in The New School Archives. Their names were found in a few sources: the injunction obtained by The New School administration against student protestors, who are named as defendents in this document (from the Central Administration Collection, NS.01.01.05); a petition from anthropology students supporting the protestors submitted to the court as part of this same case (from the John R. Everett papers, NA.0017.01); and the student newspaper Granpa (part of the New School periodicals collection, NS.05.06.01.)

Outreach to alumni and former faculty who participated in the 1996-1997 Mobilization for Real Diversity, Democracy, and Economic Justice was facilitated by Judy Pryor-Ramirez, Executive Director of Social Movements + Innovation at the Milano School of Policy, Management, and Environment.

The Activism at The New School oral history program is ongoing. The program will hopefully go on to include interviews with activists who participated in protests against New School President Bob Kerrey in the 2000s, participants in Occupy Wall Street on campus, and protestors who occupied The New School cafeteria in 2018.

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Organization and Arrangement

Interviews are arranged alphabetically by name of interviewee.

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Administrative Information

Anna Robinson-Sweet

Publication Information

New School Institutional Collections

66 Fifth Avenue
lobby
New York, NY, 10011
212.229.5942
archivist@newschool.edu

Preferred Citation note

[Identification of item], [date (if known)], Activism at The New School oral history program, NS.07.01.04, New School Archives and Special Collections, The New School, New York, New York.

Access Restrictions

Collection is open for research use. Digital transcripts (PDF file format) for each interview are also available for research use. Please contact archivist@newschool.edu for appointment.

Use Restrictions

To publish or post in any public form all or part of a recording or transcription from this collection, permission must be obtained in writing from the New School Archives and Special Collections. Please contact: archivist@newschool.edu.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

All interviews were conducted by Anna Robinson-Sweet, archivist at The New School Archives and Special Collections using equipment provided by the Archives, and files were accessioned immediately upon download.

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Related Materials

The New School Archives holds the papers of alumni Mark Schmidt (NA.0020) and Jo Townson (NA.0021), which include videos, ephemera, and records from the Mobilization; oral histories with staff and administrators at The New School discussing their experiences during the Mobilization are part of the Independent Study Oral History Project on New School History (NS.07.01.02); and fliers and posters from the Mobilization are part of the Carmen Hendershott Collection of New School ephemera (NS.05.04.02). The New School Archives also has the records and papers of former New School President John Everett (NS.01.01.02 and NA.0017.01), which contains files on the 1970 student strike and other activism at The New School in the 1960s and 1970s; and The New School periodicals collection (NS.05.06.01), which includes issues of the 1960s leftist student newspaper Granpa.

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Keywords for Searching Related Subjects

Corporate Name(s)

  • Eugene Lang College.
  • New School for Social Research (New York, N.Y. : 1919-1997). Graduate Faculty.
  • Students for a Democratic Society (U.S.).
  • Weather Underground Organization.
  • Women's International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell (W.I.T.C.H.).

Genre(s)

  • Oral histories (document genres).

Personal Name(s)

  • Alexander, M. Jacqui
  • Diamond, Stanley, 1922-

Subject(s)

  • Civil rights movements
  • Student movements
  • Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Protest movements

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Other Finding Aids note

For selected item-level description and images from the Activism at The New School oral history program, see The New School Archives Digital Collections at http://digitalarchives.library.newschool.edu/index.php/Detail/collections/NS070104

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Collection Inventory

Audio interview with Naomi Jaffe 2019 Jan 9   0.85 gb: 1 digital audio file; 1:24:14 duration; includes PDF transcript
Audio interview with Naomi Jaffe  

Naomi Jaffe was interviewed by Anna Robinson-Sweet at Jaffe’s home in Troy, New York on January 9, 2019. Jaffe is an alumna of The New School and a lifelong activist. The interview begins with a discussion of Jaffe’s early life. She describes being raised in a community of leftist Jewish chicken farmers in Sullivan County, New York, during the 1940s and 1950s. Jaffe goes on to recount her time as an undergraduate at Brandeis University in the early 1960s, where she studied politics. She speaks about her disappointment with the faculty at the university, who she describes as being “pro-Vietnam liberals.” The exception was Herbert Marcuse, under whom Jaffe studied. She recounts some moments of activism during her time at Brandeis, such as a trip to Washington, D.C. to protest the United States’ involvement in Cuba. After graduating from Brandeis, Jaffe worked for a year doing community organizing in Syracuse, New York, while applying to PhD programs in sociology. She speaks briefly about this experience. The majority of the interview is dedicated to a discussion of Jaffe’s involvement in student activism during the years she was a graduate student in sociology at The New School. Jaffe describes her involvement with Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell (WITCH), and the role she played in creating Granpa, a leftist student newspaper, at The New School. She speaks about some of the major protests organized by SDS and WITCH in the late 1960s, including the WITCH protest at the Ms. America pageant in Atlantic City. Jaffe explains how her involvement in these organizations led her to join the Weather Underground Organization (WUO), a revolutionary offshoot of SDS, in 1969. Jaffe explains how she was one of the few activists at the time who was involved in both the radical anti-war movement and the women’s liberation movement. She describes the network of groups that included the SDS chapters at The New School, Columbia University, and the greater New York City group, and speaks about some of the other revolutionaries who were involved in these groups, including fellow New School students David Gilbert and Robert Gottlieb. Jaffe discusses the impact of living underground for eight years as part of the WUO, and the decision to “come up from the underground” in 1978. Jaffe closes the interview with a discussion of her ongoing activism around anti-incarceration and criminal justice reform.

Audio interview with Ellen and Steve Levine 2019 Jan 7   0.95 gb: 1 digital audio file; 1:34:08 duration; includes PDF transcript
Audio interview with Ellen and Steve Levine  

Ellen and Steve Levine were interviewed by Anna Robinson-Sweet on January 7, 2019 at their home in Toronto, Ontario. Both Steve and Ellen are alumni of The New School and went on to have careers in expressive arts therapy. The interview begins with Ellen and Steve recounting their roots in Boston and Brooklyn, respectively. They discuss their family background and upbringing, and Steve, who grew up in the 1940s, recalls the “shadow” the Holocaust cast on his early life. Both describe their college years: Ellen studied at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, where she first began to develop an interest in social work; Steve attended the University of Pennsylvania, where he majored in oriental studies and wrote poetry. He describes feeling alienated from the community at the University of Pennsylvania, which he remembers as being somewhat anti-Semitic. Steve describes his intellectual development during these years, and his growing interest in continental philosophy, which led him to apply for a PhD at The New School. He recounts the professors he worked with during the early 1960s at The New School, and describes the intellectual culture of the department. Steve talks about moving to Pittsburgh, where he was hired as a professor at Duquesne University. At Duquesne, Steve was active in Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and encouraged his students to join protests against the Vietnam War. Steve says his activism led to a rift with the administration at Duquesne, so in 1968 he decided to return to The New School for a post-doctoral PhD in anthropology. In the same section of the interview, Ellen also recounts her post-undergraduate path. She initially moved to Chicago to study social work at the University of Chicago, but was dissatisfied with the insularity of the program and decided to leave the program to pursue a doctorate in philosophy at The New School. Ellen and Steve both discuss their years in the late 1960s at The New School. Ellen describes the rigorous academic atmosphere of the school, and the lack of other women in her department. Steve and Ellen recall meeting at an informal class Steve taught on Martin Heidegger. Steve speaks about his relationship with Stanley Diamond, the professor of anthropology he was working under. Steve recalls Diamond urging his students to organize a student strike and sit-in after the bombing of Cambodia in 1970. Ellen talks about how she began to get more involved in the student protests and was arrested as part of a demonstration that shut down Fifth Avenue outside The New School. The pair recount how it was through this organizing that they became involved romantically. Both discuss their memories of the 1970 occupation of the Graduate Faculty building, which Steve was very involved in. Following these actions, a set of New School students, including Ellen and Steve, started a commune in upstate New York at which the couple lived briefly. They describe this period of their lives as being chaotic, and when Steve was offered a position in an interdisciplinary social sciences program at York University in 1971, they were eager for a break from New York. At the end of the interview the Levines describe their involvement in developing the field of creative arts therapy in Canada and their life in Toronto.

Audio interview with Amit Rai 2019 Jun 10   1.33 gb: 1 digital audio file; 1:23:12 duration; includes PDF transcript

Amit Rai was interviewed by Anna Robinson-Sweet via Zoom audio conference on June 10, 2019. In this interview, Rai discusses his time as a professor at Eugene Lang College, The New School's undergraduate liberal arts division, in the 1990s, and his involvement in the Mobilization on campus. The interview begins with Rai describing his family’s migration to the United States when he was three years old, his early life in Southern California, and how he came to be a professor at The New School in the mid-1990s. He then discusses his family’s background of involvement in anti-colonial activism in India. Rai recounts his college years at Georgetown University, where he was exposed to community organizing and leftist ideologies. During this time, Rai tutored in prisons and was involved in student activism. Rai describes the evolution of his academic interests and decision to pursue a PhD at Stanford University in modern thought and literature. At Stanford, Rai was immersed in various critiques of identity and in intersectional politics. After finishing his degree, Rai was hired to teach at Eugene Lang College. He describes the environment of The New School when he arrived in the mid-1990s, and particularly the divide between a mostly-white, Eurocentric graduate faculty and the more diverse and intersectional Lang faculty. He mentions various professors who fell into these camps and describes how faculty of color felt marginalized by the university. Rai describes his relationship with other faculty, particularly Gary Lemons and M. Jacqui Alexander. He recounts his involvement in the protest movement known as the Mobilization, which focused on diversity and economic justice issues at The New School. Rai describes the politics of the Mobilization, how it began and ended, and the effect of the Mobilization on the climate at The New School during this time. He says that the Mobilization polarized the university and divided faculty along racial lines. At the end of the interview, Rai talks about his years at The New School after the Mobilization ended, his next job as a professor at Florida State University, and his current work as an academic and activist in London. He explains the conservative climate of his current university, Queen Mary, University of London, and the backlash he has faced from his students and the administration there. Rai ends the interview by reflecting on the impact of the Mobilization on his life.

Audio interview with Rick Salutin 2019 Jan 6   1.18 gb: 1 digital audio file; 1:59:02 duration; includes PDF transcript
Audio interview with Rick Salutin  

Rick Salutin was interviewed by Anna Robinson-Sweet on January 6, 2019 at Salutin’s home in Toronto, Ontario. Salutin begins the interview by describing his early life in Forest Hill Village, an affluent Jewish suburb of Toronto, in the 1950s. An eager student with an interest in Jewish studies, he recounts enrolling at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, to pursue an undergraduate degree, through a connection at his local synagogue. From Brandeis, Salutin moved to New York, pursuing a joint degree at the Jewish Theological Seminary and Columbia University, in Jewish studies and religion, respectively, as well as doing graduate work at the Union Theological Seminary in Morningside Heights. The majority of the interview is dedicated to describing the evolution of his political consciousness across the 1960s. Entering the seminary, Salutin describes his impression of politics as “shallow” vis-à-vis philosophy and theology. By the mid-1960s, with growing antagonism towards the Vietnam War, student protests, and sessions in psychotherapy, he remembers losing interest in rabbinical studies and his marriage, dropping out of school and divorcing his wife. He recounts a protest he participated in at Columbia University in 1965 organized by Students for a Democratic Society (SDS.) In 1967, Salutin enrolled at The New School to pursue a doctoral degree in philosophy, under the encouragement of Hans Jonas, who he met through Emil Fackenheim, a prominent Jewish scholar. It was at The New School that Salutin became more involved in political activism. Salutin recounts participating in a confrontation with Chancellor Harry Gideonse, an ardent anti-Communist. Salutin describes the pluralistic character of activism at the school. He recalls a cohort of student activists he describes as having a “Maoist” disposition, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and a radical set of SDS members, including Naomi Jaffe, who Salutin knew from Brandeis, and David Gilbert who would go on to join The Weather Underground. He also describes the various antagonisms between students and faculty, and the student strike of 1970, which culminated in an injunction against the students and the arrest of dozens of strikers, including Salutin. After a court hearing, Salutin remembers moving to Quebec City and taking up playwriting. He returned to New York, briefly, finishing his comprehensive exams. The last part of the interview includes Salutin’s description of his return to Toronto, the political climate in Canada in the 1980s, and his ongoing activism. He describes his work throughout these years as a playwright, his involvement in local union organizing, and his ongoing work in journalism.

Audio interview with Jo Townson 2019 Apr 26   0.59 gb: 1 digital audio file; 00:58:17 duration; includes PDF transcript

Jo Townson was interviewed by Anna Robinson-Sweet via Zoom video conference on April 26, 2019. Townson talks about her early life in California, student activism, and her career in public health. The majority of the interview is dedicated to her involvement in the Mobilization, a student-led protest movement at The New School calling for economic justice and diversity at the university. Townson opens the interview speaking about her early life. She describes growing up in the Bay Area of Northern California, attending an alternative high school, and early activism. Townson recounts moving to New York in 1994 to attend Eugene Lang College. Townson remembers taking a course with M. Jacqui Alexander, an Afro-Caribbean educator, social theorist, and activist, and how this course inspired her involvement in the Mobilization. She describes how the Mobilization, first motivated by Alexander’s employment insecurity at The New School, grew to a series of demands surrounding the university’s recruitment and retention of faculty of color, gender pay equity, and the school’s tacit upholding of heterosexual norms. Townson describes the demands as aimed at administrators, and in particular then-President Jonathan F. Fanton. Townson briefly touches on the media’s coverage of the Mobilization and the movement’s connection to similar protests across the country. Townson struggles to recount what happened to the Mobilization after she left Lang, saying she believed most of the “key people” either dropped out or graduated. Townson closes the interview talking about her brief stint in documentary filmmaking and the overlap between her early activism and her current work in public health.

Collection Guide Last Updated: 09/06/2019

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