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Northwestern commemorates 1968 Bursars Office takeover

Northwestern commemorates 1968 Bursars Office takeover


Northwestern commemorates a transformational event, the Bursar's Office takeover of 1968

Hundreds of alumni, students, faculty, staff and guests gathered at Northwestern May 3-5 for an emotional reunion to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1968 takeover by black students of the Bursar’s Office in Evanston, a sit-in that transformed the black experience and the history of the University.

Many of the alumni were students here a half-century ago who participated in the takeover, and they returned to mark the milestone, recount their stories and join in several days of events. 

“Welcome home. I’ve been waiting to meet you for a long time,” said Provost Jonathan Holloway, opening the takeover commemoration symposium. “On a very personal note, I thank you. I would not be where I am, and many of my peers would not be where they are, if not for you."

Read a complete report of the commemoration. 

Below: Members of the panel reflect on events of 1968. The crowd gathers in front of the Bursar's Office 50 years later. Photos by Jim Prisching

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The Bursar's Office takeover...was a turning point in the empowerment of our black students, in the building of a more enriched curriculum and in the wider impact it had on diversity and inclusion at the University.”

Morton Schapiro
Northwestern President

Looking back 50 years

In 1968, a year marked by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as well as demonstrations and student activism at campuses across the nation, Northwestern experienced its first major student sit-in.

More than 100 students peacefully occupied the Bursar's Office at 619 Clark Street to protest the black student experience. The occupation began May 3 and lasted 38 hours, ending with a negotiated resolution in which the administration responded to a list of eight student demands.

The protest resulted in the "May 4th Agreement," as it is popularly known, that had a significant and enduring impact on the course of the University. The takeover helped spur progress, ranging from increasing black student enrollment and financial aid, to revised housing policies and the expansion of "studies of black history and black culture," among others.

Learn more about the takeover by visiting the University Archives exhibit "They Demanded Courageously."

After a peaceful resolution that established a starting point on those and other matters, Northwestern made progress on many of the demands.

"As we reflect on the 1968 sit-in events at Northwestern, we are more committed than ever to providing a dynamic and inclusive educational experience," President Schapiro and Provost Jonathan Holloway said in a message to the campus community.

"By embracing backgrounds and viewpoints different from our own, we can challenge our assumptions, test our ideas and broaden our understanding of the world," they said. "It is only by understanding our history that we can map out a better course for our future as individuals, as an institution and as a society."

Below: Officials break ground at the Black House. NUBAA premieres a documentary film on the takeover. Photos by Jim Prisching

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The celebration of these events reminds us of the important issues of the past that still challenge us and many members of the black community today — and essentially underscores and acknowledges our history.”

Jabbar Bennett
Associate Provost and Chief Diversity Officer

Making a better university

To honor this significant event in Northwestern history, faculty, staff, students and alumni, with leadership from the Northwestern University Black Alumni Association (NUBAA), coordinated a series of events over the course of the academic year culminating in three days in early May including a panel discussion with takeover leaders, the unveiling of a commemorative memorial, arts performances, firsthand accounts and the premiere of a documentary film on the sit-in.

One of the things President Schapiro has done is to create an environment for transparency, and Northwestern is not afraid of doing what it takes to make it a better university.”

Jeffrey Sterling
NUBAA President

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Published: April 30, 2018. Updated: May 17, 2018.

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