By Marissa Amendolia
Feb 19 2009
They say that we have entered an era of change, with a new
administration gracing the halls of the White House and bringing hope
to much of the youth of America. These winds of change often
brought about by a fresh generation of innovative thinkers wake up
the country and incite revolution by unapologetically pointing
directly at our society's problems. The walls and grounds of
Georgetown University have seen a number of these movements, but the
campus' most extraordinary memories were made during late 1960s and
It was a time of activism both peaceful protests and violent riots
of drugs and rock 'n' roll, of freedom and, ultimately, of change.
Although the majority of the student body still embodied the "Joe
Hoya" stereotype of the time, Georgetown had its contingency of
students that didn't quite fit the bill of blue blazers and tasseled
loafers. These students represented the spirit of the age, bringing
both enthusiasm for social reform with protests and riots, as well as
the idea of a new sort of lifestyle with music in the dorms and class
on the lawn.
The Changing Face of Georgetown
"The ideological gap widening between administrators and those that
they administrate is based not so much on a specific issue (the war
is passé, involvement in politics gauche after Americans chose Nixon
voluntarily) but on a new awareness of what student power really
means. … The students are to be served and consulted rather than
subjugated and cajoled. They are taking on an increasingly
significant role in everything from academic control to faculty tenure."
C.I. "Campus Violence: Part of Student Life." (The Hoya. Thursday,
Feb. 27, 1969, Page 11)
"The whole country was beginning to change," says Professor Clifford
Chieffo. "It took the more extreme kids, but our kids were highly
organized and political for the underdogs. They weren't just random
hippies who wanted to smoke dope." Chieffo's perspective of the scene
at Georgetown during this time is a unique one: Although he was a
professor at the time, he joined the faculty in 1967 at the ripe age
of 29 to restructure and develop the four-person Fine Arts Department.
It was this new arts department that acted as a center for this new
wave of students, he explained. Of the six students who made up the
Georgetown chapter of Students for a Democratic Society the
nationwide radical student organization that was responsible for
shutting down Columbia University in a 1968 protest three of them
were majoring in art.
"There was this all-around freedom challenging the status quo,"
Chieffo says. "It was just like, not exactly free love, but there was
a lot of Grateful Dead people male and female. A lot of miniskirts
and sandals. And of course they would all end up in the art department."
But more than this small group of new thinkers, the student body as a
whole was evolving. The lead headline of the opening issue of The
Hoya for the 1970-1971 school year read in bold typeface: "Class of
'74 Most Diversified Ever." Women were first allowed to directly
matriculate into the College in the 1969-1971 school year, making
Georgetown fully coeducational. In the years that followed, the
number of women admitted into the university quickly grew. In the
class of '74, of the 1,122 total freshman, 33 were black and 315 were
women, compared to the 313 women in the class of '73 and 215 in the
class of '72. "In a way, '74 has already contributed to change on the
Hilltop, though they have hardly had a chance to unpack their bags,"
the article states. "The makeup of the freshman classes has changed
tremendously, indeed, almost dramatically, over the past five years."
This diversity was not always celebrated as it was on the cover of
The Hoya, Chieffo remembers. The influx of women shifted professors'
expectations and grading scales, and the classroom was no longer a
place for only male students. "There was a lot of resistance," he
says, "because the old boys' system 'the gentleman's C' was now
dropping down to a D."
In addition to affecting the academic curve, the growing presence of
women on campus changed the overall atmosphere and tone. When
dormitories became coed, male students were forced to keep their
behavior in check. Chieffo remembers boys breaking into the girls'
restrooms and other minor incidents that were testaments to the
changing environment. "There was almost, I would say, uniform angst
and opposition from a lot of the faculty and a lot of the students
almost all of the guy students," Chieffo says. "It was almost like an
overgrown high school prep school, so they were just all doing their
guy things from their prep school days, and they were all not nearly
As the student body changed, so too did the faculty. "There was a
huge all across the country explosion of universities hiring more
and more people, expanding, and Georgetown was a part of that,"
Chieffo said. "A lot of new faculty members came in when I came in."
Nine of 10 school deans, all seven vice presidents, and the president
of the university all filled their positions between 1961 and 1971.
This new set of professors and administrators reassessed and
re-designed the core curriculum; Chieffo explains that this was when
classics courses were no longer required for all students. "There was
a lot of negotiating going on in the faculty," he says. "So there was
definitely change and new blood on campus."
This sentiment was reflected in the article "Liberal Education
Tradition Is Dead" that was printed in the May 8, 1969 issue of The
Hoya: "With the passing of the traditional form of the university, we
face the question: What should the university, more importantly, what
should Georgetown be and what should we as students be?"
In 1965, The Georgetown Free University, a program founded by a group
of professors who wanted to teach outside of their department,
attempted to answer that question. They sought to offer new and
innovative courses free of charge such as Communes, Violence in
America, African Music, Libertarian Ideas, Evolution and Meditation.
Teachers in The Free University program could be anyone from a
Georgetown professor to an underclassman to a member of the D.C.
community. The Free University served as a forum for new and old
ideas, brought people of diverse backgrounds together and encouraged
a more intimate and personal relationship between teachers and students.
The classroom was no longer only a place for lectures and exams it
was a place for free thinkers, creativity and unanswerable questions.
Signs of Protests, Sounds of Hope
"Here was a childhood dream come true; roller skating down the widest
street in town, camping out on the crosswalks, mass jaywalking in
front of the Justice Department. People played Frisbee, laughed,
drank wine and ate popsicles. The policemen said please and thank
you. Everyone was smiling. They came to speak out against a war."
Mike Winship "Protest Rally Demands 'Out Now': Good Weather,
Peaceful Music." (The Georgetown Voice. Tuesday, April 27, 1971, Page 3)
D.C. was on fire during this time period sometimes literally.
Protesters from across the country stretched their rights to free
speech as they marched and demonstrated they openly voiced their
opinions on the Vietnam War, on race relations and on civil rights.
Although still somewhat tucked away in the gentrified Northwest
quadrant, Georgetown didn't escape the tumultuous setting of D.C.
while activism was in its prime.
Like inauguration weekend (but perhaps less organized), the May Day
Protests of 1971 saw Georgetown students housing an influx of
visitors who wanted to be in the middle of the action. "People were
coming in from all parts of the country and Father McSorley was the
great 'peacenick' 'Thou shall not kill' and all that," Chieffo
says. "So he and a bunch of us got accommodations in Healy, in the
hallways. They could put their bedrolls down there and all over the
gym and so forth to come down for this big rally."
The weekend before the protest, students gathered, both in the halls
of Georgetown and on the lawn of the National Mall. Peter, Paul and
Mary, Pete Seeger and "Country" Joe McDonald performed, their music
interspersed with powerful speakers. Overall, the atmosphere was
festive the protesters celebrated the fact that they were there and
having their voices heard.
"It was a contest between ennui and Woodstock Washington," reported
The Georgetown Voice. The article, headlined "Protest Rally Demands
'Out Now': Good Weather, Peaceful Music," appeared in the April 27,
1971 issue of The Voice, the weekend before the main events of the
May Day Protest. This was characteristic of the reporting of The
Voice, which was founded in 1969 to report on the various cases of
activism that The Hoya only limitedly and conservatively covered.
"The marchers believed their presence was protest enough, and
ultimately what they wanted was entertainment," stated the article.
"Exhilarated by the sunshine and the size of their protest, Woodstock
finally won out."
But what started as a group of students playing music and painting
signs in the halls quickly took a turn. Chieffo remembers standing at
the foot of the statue of John Carroll on Healy Circle with Fr.
Fitzgerald, S.J. as the police chased a horde of students from
Pennsylvania Avenue to M Street to the main gates of campus. They
wore scarves over their faces to protect themselves from the tear
gas. Chieffo explains, "You see photos of the kids with bandannas
tied around their legs so you would take the bandanna off, pour
water on it and put it on your face, and you could use it for the
anti-tear gas. Everyone had one; it was part of the costume."
"We were standing there going, 'Can the cops come onto our campus and
chase the kids?'" Chieffo says. "[Fitzgerald] goes, 'I don't think
so.' We closed the gates, literally, and we stood there and said,
'You cannot come here, it is private property.'"
The students were able to enter campus through the sides of the gates
as Chieffo and Fitzgerald stopped the police at the gates. The police
on motorcycles began to throw the tear gas over the gates as students
rushed into Healy Hall. Chieffo recalls that the whole operation on
Georgetown's side was all quite organized; auxiliary workers helped
the students with water to repel the effects of the teargas.
In its Nov. 2, 1971 issue, The Voice surveyed Georgetown students
about the actions of the police during the May protests. "The tear
gas affected everyone," Jon Platt (SFS '72) said in the survey. "I
was in New South at the time waking up at 6:30 in the morning,
gagging from tear gas. The action was mostly against Georgetown
students who weren't trying to do anything except go to their tests.
That's their right."
Not all activism ended in such chaos. About six months after an
interracial alliance of Columbia University SDS and Student Afro
Society activists successfully shut down its campus, the Georgetown
set became determined to stage a similar revolt.
"I remember that we the adults involved were amused because it
was so late in coming and they didn't have enough kids to take over
White-Gravenor," says Chieffo. "I mean it was sad in a way they were trying."
However, a lack of manpower forced the small group to switch gears.
They then focused their attention on Annex II, the building that once
stood where Alumni Square is now. Annex II held a number of
classrooms for various departments, but it was also the home of
Chieffo's newly established art department.
At midnight one Sunday evening, Chieffo got a call from his students:
They told him they wanted to take over Annex II. "Just don't break
the door. I'll come down and let you in," he told them.
"So, I let them in and immediately they started barricading, piling
up the wooden desks against the windows and doors, and chaining up
the doors," says Chieffo. "I'm standing there going, 'Uh,
everything's blocked, everything's chained, and you're in an old
wooden building. One cigarette and you guys are toast.'"
It didn't take long for them to get his point. They ripped down their
barricades and opted for a small rope around the door enough to
disrupt most of the classes that were set to be held on Monday
morning, but still responsible. Art classes, however, went on as
scheduled. "I had spray-painted a peace sign and 'Soul Brother' on
all the art rooms and said, 'Don't touch my stuff,'" says Chieffo.
"They were the art majors so they said, 'No, we'll still have art classes.'"
"Now that I look back on it, they had an entrepreneurial nature,"
says Chieffo. "Even as artists at Georgetown, they still wanted to
organize and they wanted to plan and so on."
And plan they did: The students had organized an external force to
bring them food "for the long stay," so to speak. But by Monday
morning, when university officials hadn't made any significant effort
to regain control of the building, they got bored. After a couple of
days, they begin to vacate the building but not before the East
Coast contingent of Hell's Angels pulled up to the front gates and
decided that this was their type of scene. "Typical, real Hell's
Angels from the '60s, not the ZZ Top kind, but the really big guys,"
The leader of the gang was known as "Sonny's Girl" she proudly
displayed her relationship with Sonny Barger, the infamous head of
Hell's Angels, in the form of a tattoo on her right bicep. The group
immediately took over where SDS left off, making bunk beds out of
easels and enjoying the free stay.
"Anything could happen with this group," says Chieffo. He went right
to Sonny's Girl and told her that the university was getting antsy
and wanted to call the police. "They said, 'Oh okay, we'll leave
tomorrow.' So they all left, just like that, perfectly nice. They got
on their choppers and everybody left. Nothing was broken, but I know
they were like, about to have a barbeque in the middle of the room."
Just as Hell's Angels tiptoed the line of what Georgetown would put
up with but then disappeared the next day, the age of revolution
dissolved in a matter of time. Eventually, the cries for change
softened and the new social norms became more widely accepted both
at Georgetown and beyond. Now, we learn about this history in the
same classrooms that saw it happen. But some stories aren't told in
today's classrooms the stories of Allen Ginsberg getting high in a
student's townhouse, of a student falling out of Gaston Hall and
sleeping on the ledge outside of the president's office for three
days, of another student living under Key Bridge for a semester to
empathize with the homeless, of the clock hands being stolen and sent
to the pope. Even though these aren't found in textbooks, they still
must be remembered they are the spices that add flavor to
Georgetown's unique history.