“Even Princeton”: Vietnam and a Culture of Student Activism, 1967-1972

by Kyla Morgan Young GS

College campuses in the 1960s and early ’70s were bastions of social and political activism. Students across the nation began to discover a renewed sense of political duty that came in the form of critique. Activism swelled around a myriad of issues including civil rights, gender equality, Apartheid, and most notably, America’s involvement in Vietnam. Princeton University was not immune. Student activism was a significant part of campus life in the mid-1960s. The issues of the Vietnam War, in particular, mobilized the masses on Princeton’s campus in new and often unexpected ways.

Princeton student activism was fueled by both larger national politics and University-specific issues. While the draft and the morality of U.S. involvement abroad sparked debate, the actions of the University, from the role of the Army’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) to the University’s affiliation with the Institute for Defense Analysis (IDA), prompted students to pursue change at the University as well. This new political presence initially did not concern University President Robert F. Goheen. His opening remarks to the class of 1969 that “Only through disturbance comes growth” were not meant as prophecy, but students grew disturbed and sought change (quoted in Richard K. Rein, “The Rise of Student Power,” PAW, May 12, 1972).

In the fall of 1965, the local chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) was founded and became one of the lead organizations for radical campus activism. Among its many concerns, the SDS was particularly outspoken against U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Draft resistance became part of college campus life across the country, especially at Princeton. In April 1967, the Princeton Draft Resistance Union was created and sponsored by SDS, as undergraduates signed under the statement “We won’t go” (later published in the Daily Princetonian). Out of the 100 draft resistance centers across the United States, Princeton had two of the most active: the Princeton Graduate Draft Union and the undergraduate Princeton Draft Resistance Union.

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Princeton University Broadsheets Collection (AC375), Box 1.

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