Flashback: BYU calm amid turbulent times

    121

    By Andrew Damstedt

    When Robert Goss transferred to BYU from a state university in New York, he said the difference between the two universities was night and day.

    Goss was a senior during the Civil Rights era, a time when most college campuses had protests, riots and violence. While many New York students marched along the streets protesting, most BYU students remained calm during this storm of unrest.

    ?The dress and behavior and speech were all very different to a student college in New York,? remembered Goss, now a BYU political science professor. ?I think there were many who were more skeptical here than at the prior school about the power of government but still we were hopeful and wanted to make things better for people were disadvantaged.?

    Even after he left BYU and went back to New York, Goss said he was surprised to see people marching in the street.

    ?BYU came into national prominence during the 1960s because of the relative serenity of the campus during a period when riots, bombings, burnings, strikes and student violence were erupting on hundreds of college and university campuses throughout the United States,? reads a statement from ?BYU: The First One Hundred Years,? edited by President Ernest Wilkinson.

    However, during that era several schools protested BYU because BYU did not have any minorities ? specifically blacks ?on the athletic teams. Right before a BYU-Wyoming game, 14 black players were kicked off Wyoming?s football team because they disobeyed coach Lloyd Eaton?s order of not wearing black armbands. Although that incident is not connected to BYU, it fueled the crowd to protest BYU?s all-white team.

    ?Waves of black protest roll toward BYU, assaulting Mormon belief and leaving BYU officials and students, perplexed, hurt and maybe a little angry,? reads an Associated Press article published in The Daily Universe November 3, 1969.

    The controversy climaxed when then-Stanford University President Kenneth Spitzer suspended relations with BYU either athletic or non-athletic because there were no blacks on any athletic teams.

    President Wilkinson, BYU President from 1951-1971, responded to this issue with a statement published in many newspapers across the Western United States.

    ?So that the record will be straight on this matter, may I inform you that we have consistently had a policy against discrimination at this University and all Negroes who apply for admission and can meet academic standards are admitted,? Wilkinson wrote to the public.

    During a Devotional address on November 25, 1969, President Wilkinson addressed students and faculty on these recent accusations of racism at BYU, citing the BYU admission policy that stated students are admitted regardless of their race as long as they maintain the ideals and standards of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

    ?Many of these [accusations] have been out by misinformed persons who have made unfounded charges of racism against BYU and by their followers who have participated not because they had any facts regarding the issues but because it seemed to be the popular thing to do,? President Wilkinson said during the Devotional.

    President Wilkinson also noted in ?BYU The First One Hundred Years? that the only problem on BYU campus during the Civil Rights Era was ensuring the guidelines of the dress, grooming and dance standards were followed.

    During that time, women were required to wear dresses and men were not allowed to have their hair below their ears or collar. Registration officials and others who patrolled campus enforced strict enforcement of the dress and grooming standard.

    Goss, a student at BYU during this time period, said he wasn?t one to test the rules because he knew what the dress code and expectations were and decided to conform to those requirements.

    ?I was a convert and I was learning a lot of things about the church,? Goss said. ?It was a period of hope and dreams for many people. BYU was affected positively by the hopes and dreams of the society and the government was able to some things to help some people.?

    The administration officials were also concerned with the new dance styles that were emerging, such as the twist, limbo, swim and jerk. To control the dancing, all dances on campus were supervised and bands were screened for their music. But some students would go off campus to dance in these new styles of dancing.

    Print Friendly, PDF & Email