Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Charles J. Shindo
Contemporary opinion and much scholarship frequently interprets student activists from the 1960s and 1970s as radical critics of both American society and foreign policy, seeking revolutionary changes in both and caring little of the consequences to the existing order. In fact, conservative forces and values based on democratic capitalism drove student activism of the period. Students' core values of equality of opportunity, equality of and before the law, and faith in the democratic process motivated their activism not just towards civil rights and the war in Vietnam, but also towards issues of student funding and institutions, indicating that self-interest served as one of those values as well. Only when these core values were offended did students engage in activism. Whereas the denial of equal opportunity to blacks in the South and Chicanos in the West easily offended those values and appealed to students' sense of democratic capitalism, the War in Vietnam did not. Specific issues of the war, such as the draft, offended students' sense of self-interest, motivating them to forcefully oppose the war. The war itself, however, did not succeed in bringing large-scale activism even though much of the student body felt America's involvement in Vietnam a mistake, illustrating the difference between being opposed to the war and opposing the war. The evolution of minority student activism and their successful development of ethnic studies centers illustrated both the extent and limitations of reform during this period, Minority students grasped the relationship between empowerment and education, demanding greater access to the university and its institutions through developmental admissions programs and ethnic studies. While the white-majority student body embraced some of those reforms as seeking to address inequality, when they perceived those demands as limiting their own sense of equality and self-interest, they relied on the same values to oppose later reforms as they had to endorse earlier reforms.
Kemper, Kurt Edward, "Reformers in the Marketplace of Ideas: Student Activism and American Democracy in Cold War Los Angeles." (2000). LSU Historical Dissertations and Theses. 7273.