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Nearly 150 students chanted in solidarity outside of Cutler Hall in January 1969 while university officials met with the steering committee to discuss the creation of a Black Studies Institute. (Photo provided by the Mahn Center for Archives & Special Collections)

How student demands led to the creation of OU’s African-American Studies program

In December 1968, about 15 black students presented then-Ohio University President Vernon Alden with a list of demands, one of which would later lead to the creation of what is now the African-American Studies program.

In their list, the students demanded the university create a curriculum run by black students and a counseling program, a resource center and residence halls for black students. They also wanted OU to admit and provide financial aid for any black high school student who wished to attend the university, and they also wanted a $35 per quarter service fee to be used for a Black Student Growth Fund.

“I think the group (of black students) were saying, ‘These are a list of some things we are concerned about at Ohio University,’” then-OU Executive Vice President James Whalen said.

Those students met with Alden for about 15 minutes and said the demands were on behalf of the black students at OU, according to a Dec. 3, 1968, Post report.

Alden said the demands brought up issues that were important to both students and the university as a whole and that he wanted to continue to meet with them. 

“At the same time, I want to make it perfectly clear that while the issues raised in my office are indeed open to discussion, the manner in which these matters were raised and some of the demands made are totally unacceptable,” Alden said in a previous Post report.

As a result of the demands, the university formed a steering committee of both students and faculty to meet with the administration in mid-January 1969

An article titled “Black planning begins, new official sought” states that university administrators were making efforts to hire a black administrator to provide assistance to black students on campus. Additionally, some students traveled to places like New York, Baltimore and Atlanta during winter break to see what universities were doing in relation to curriculum and other student demands.

In the few months after the students made the initial demands, many of the proposals were still in the research and planning stages. A March 6, 1969, Post article titled “‘Signs of progress’ seen on black students’ demands” details how a proposal for four-year black studies program was in the works, but many of the other demands were still in the earliest phases of study.

But then in late April 1969, the University Curriculum Council unanimously approved the proposal for a Black Studies Institute, which would “concern itself with the problems, history and experiences of black people” and be open to all students. It was one of the first major proposals to come from the committee and out of the initial students’ demands.

The proposal for the institute called for black students and faculty to direct the program. An editorial in the April 25, 1969, issue commended the council for approving the institute. 

Just a few days later, about 150 students chanted in solidarity outside Cutler Hall as the university gave a written commitment to the black studies institute.

“The students wanted to make it perfectly clear that they were in agreement with what we had proposed,” McKinley Broadus, a student member of the steering committee, said in a previous Post report.

In that commitment, OU pledged to give $250,000 in operational and private funds, and Alden agreed to appoint an executive dean for Afro-American affairs to work directly with the president and other top university officials to develop the program.

The program is now called the African-American Studies program and “remains one of a few programs with departmental status in the state of Ohio,” according to its page on the OU website.


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