1968 SF State strike remembered

October 29, 2008 7:21:00 PM PDT
People reflected on a groundbreaking demonstration that took place at San Francisco State University in 1968. Wednesday marked the 40th anniversary of the longest student strike in the country's history, when back then, they fought to change the curriculum.

At San Francisco State University on Wednesday, it might have seemed that nothing has changed. At a demonstration there were the same names and faces, but with one twist -- they were 40 years older.

"You know, at times, we are forced into different roles," said Roger Alvarado, a former protester.

Alvarado remembered the anniversary of the demonstration in 1968, when he helped lead the longest student strike in American history. They boycotted classes for five months, demanding ethnic and cultural diversity.

"We wanted to see this campus become more of the communities that we were from, bottom line. We wanted third world studies, black studies, Chicano studies, Indian studies," said Alvarado.

In looking at the importance of this movement consider the times. Students were already demonstrating against the Vietnam War and for free speech, now there was this one at San Francisco State. The establishment thought they were supposed to just go to school and keep quiet.

"I stayed up for three days bailing people out," said Margaret Leahy, Ph.D., a former protester.

Leahy became a professor of international studies at SF State. Leahy and all the other organizers who returned Wednesday, remember police and riots, and how then Governor Reagan backed the university in opposing them.

"There were less than seven percent people of color when the strike started. And now we have a multi-ethnic university," said Leahy.

A university that reflects the population of this state, they say. A movement that these organizers believe changed universities across this nation.

"The impact is higher education certainly has a more diverse face to it," said Ramona Tascoe, M.D., a former protester.

And San Francisco State now has a college of ethnic studies. For Roger Alvarado, that victory allowed him to walk across campus on Wednesday in relative obscurity, as a grandfather and retired carpenter. This was the first time he returned to S.F. State in 40 years.

"You know, I had my fifteen seconds of fame. And that's fine with me. What I enjoy is looking on this campus and on this student body and faculty and appreciating the fact that it has changed," said Alvarado.


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