Column: SIU students need to get political


Daily Egyptian file photo

By Sam Beard

The year was 1970, and all hell had broken loose at Southern Illinois University Carbondale as thousands of heavily armed police and guardsmen swarmed the city to quash a student uprising.

The rebellion was in response to injustice at home and abroad.

The anti-Vietnam War movement was at its peak when the National Guard opened fire on the students of Kent State University in Ohio, murdering four students on May 4.


This, coupled with the presence of the newly-opened and highly controversial Center for Vietnamese Studies on campus had our student body furious.

For Carbondale, the days following the massacre came to be known as the Seven Days in May, because for a whole week the students of SIU raged against the machine that was sending young American men around the world to fight an inhumane war.

That week, the students of SIU hit the streets in demonstrations of all shapes and sizes.

One of the biggest was a march of several thousand students from Morris Library to the intersection of Route 13 and Route 51, which they occupied until the National Guard indiscriminately lobbed copious amounts of tear gas, inciting a riot.

In response to the unrest, the chancellor and mayor issued a joint curfew forbidding students from walking their own streets after 7:30 pm. People’s houses — particularly those of dissidents — were being broken into left and right by police in warrantless raids, and any on-campus gathering of over 25 students was outlawed.

The disorder culminated in an unprecedented move by the Board of Trustees.

On May 12, they closed the university indefinitely.


This may sound like something out of a dystopian fiction novel, but this is a part of our local history.

The heavy-hitting philosopher Friedrich Hegel said that we need to study history in order to go back in time to rescue things that have gone missing.

The problem lies with the fact that this history is being kept from us. So many SIU students will never be taught these facts. But by relearning this history, we can begin to learn from it.

Why did or didn’t the tactics of the student movement succeed? Will those same tactics, if employed today, yield similar results or are new strategies needed? What would a successful student movement look like in 2017?

It’s not like mass demonstrations and social movements have disappeared from the political landscape or anything. One needs only to look two hours east, to the protests in St. Louis over the past week.

However, the depoliticization of the college campus is a very real threat to the betterment of society.

Universities are supposed to be hotbeds of political activity, places where the brightest young minds can challenge the status quo and its dangerous assumptions, where they can build networks to solve the pressing issues facing humanity and the planet.

Unfortunately, the federal restructuring of the university into an elaborate debt machine has made us docile, with the looming threat of loan repayment keeping us all in line.

Nowadays, older folk love to call millennials apathetic. Apathy, however, is one of the most reasonable responses to contemporary society. Everything sucks and we all feel powerless in our ability to change it.  

The good news is that there are more than enough of us who want to make the world a better place to actually accomplish it. There are so many ethical and passionate college students and townsfolk in Carbondale who want to change our community for the better.

Of course, the question becomes “How do we do that?”

For starters, we need to pick sides and get organized, stay educated on national and global social movements without becoming lost in the endless news cycle and finally, just show up

No doubt there will be protests happening all around us for the rest of our lives. Join one or, even better, start one.

The trick is to take action for whatever cause you want in whichever way you find appropriate.

Today, just as the ‘70s, there will be people who vehemently disagree with us on our march towards justice. That’s OK — ignore them.

Because if we don’t resist the exponentially increasing violence, exploitation and oppression of the modern world, things will only get worse.

And ain’t nobody got time for that.

Student Trustee Sam Beard can be reached at [email protected] or by phone at (618) 453-8418. His office is located in the Registered Student Organization Suite on the third floor of the Student Center and his office hours are Mondays/Wednesdays: 11:00 am – 12:50 pm, Thursdays: 11:00 am – 2:00 pm, or by appointment.