What Are We Fighting For?

“I know that in the struggle for enlightenment against ignorance and prejudice Washington University will stand in the forefront of the battle.”
— 1905 Commencement


With this bold mission Mr. William Donaldson (WU Class of 1863) ended his 1905 Commencement oration. Are we fighting against ignorance and prejudice? Are we perpetuating them? A hundred years has passed and there is still a lot of prejudice on campus. Racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, etc… these are all still very relevant issues that students face every year.
In his 1905 Commencement toast, Mr. Thomas Rutledge, president of the alumni association, said:

“It is a great thing to have our dreams come true. And as long ago as when I was a freshman, we used to be told that the Board of Directors were planning to move from the old barracks on Seventeenth Street, and were building castles in the air. Then we freshmen and succeeding classes of freshmen go to dreaming the same dreams, and now we wake up this morning and find it all true. Go on, Mr. President and Directors, and dream some more dreams. We now have such confidence in you that we know that when they come true the results will have all the brilliant hues of the coat of the great dreamer of dreams of old.”



The fervent words of these men may not feel so foreign to me if I saw Washington University as more of a school than a money-making business. In order to regain this school spirit I believe that we need to focus more on the impact WU is making in St. Louis and in the world. What are we doing to make our campus more inclusive of students from various backgrounds? What are we doing to create sustainable, positive change in our environment and economy?

Walter Smith, an Instructor of English,  gives us a metaphor to think of what our campus could be like. He writes, on the occasion of the new campus,

“As the one large bell pealing out from the towers of University Hall marks the change of the hour and the passage of time over the whole campus, so the reawakened spirit of the new University will move forward with the unity of heart and enthusiasm to the greater Washington University of the future.”

If we care about this institution, and if we take seriously Mr. Donaldson’s mission, we need to ask ourselves: What is our vision for the future of this school? How can we make that vision heard and take steps towards making that happen? Are we at the forefront of the battle for social justice?

There are many examples throughout WashU’s history when students fought for a more just future.

(Below) Fundraising flyer towards improved facilities for women on campus, early 20th century. Read more here: http://uaexhibits.omeka.net/exhibits/show/celebrating-women-washington/donors/womens-building


(below) 1968 protests against the ROTC program


To find out about a 1974 student-led event discussing the challenges women face in academic and professional fields, see:  http://webfiles.wulib.wustl.edu/units/spec/archives/texts/Women-in-Architecture-Symposium_1974.pdf

And to learn about the Phyllis Schlafly student protests in 2008 (pictured below), click here: http://archon.wulib.wustl.edu/index.php?p=collections/controlcard&id=402


Students protesting university award given to anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly, 2008


This post is part of an occasional series, marking the 110 year anniversary of the Danforth Campus’ first use for academic programs, in 1904-05.  Read more about the dedication events and first commencement ceremony, June 1905, in the Alumni Bulletin available in full text on-line.

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