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The Student Activist Community
The student movement existed as more than a compilation of causes it also represented a community, composed of activists united by a shared egalitarian ethic. Some students were drawn to the movement as much by this sense of community as by any particular issue. This was the case with some of the more affluent student activists. By virtue of their privileged economic status in a nation beset by economic distress, Left-leaning students from affluent homes felt isolated. The movement helped break down these feelings of isolation; it offered such students a new community, enabling privileged to unite with underprivileged, upper class with middle and working class. This new sense of community was especially powerful because it not only offered friendship and warmth, but a common sense of purpose and political idealism rooted in a passionate commitment to social equality.
The student movement's ability to satisfy this longing for community was nowhere more evident than in the reports movement activists published on their labor solidarity work. One such report by Dartmouth ASU activist Budd Shulberg told the story of efforts by students in this very elite college to aid striking marble workers. Shulberg begins his account by describing the students' sense of isolation. When the Dartmouth ASU contingent first arrived at the local union hall to offer their support to the strikers, they were met by "a burly Irishman [who] did not seem glad that they had come." The workers, thinking that all college "kids did was have dances and good times," had seen little reason to welcome the students or put much stock in their pledges of support. Shulberg then notes, however, that after the students worked long and hard on fund raising and publicity for the strikers, a sense of political community between these upper-class students and the workers had been established. Proudly underscoring this change, Shulberg described the very different reception ASU activists received at the union hall.
Affluent students were not the only Depression era activists whose attraction to the student movement was linked to a search for community. If these students embraced the student movement as a means of transcending their privileged backgrounds, others embraced the movement as a means of transcending their underprivileged background. Among this latter group were Jewish students for whom the movement functioned as an avenue out of their immigrant ghettoes. The movement enabled them to meet and work with students from all over the country, and, in the words of NSL leader George Watt,
The student movement conferred a measure of acceptance upon Jewish students which they had never before found on American college campuses. In the past Jews had been barred from many campus social organizations and from leadership in student life. By creating new and non-discriminatory institutions, the movement enabled Jewish students to obtain national leadership positions which they could not have achieved in traditional undergraduate institutions. Thus at a time when Jews could not even belong to many student fraternities, the student movement elevated Jewish students, such as Joseph Lash, to top national offices in the largest political organization on the campuses of Depression America: the American Student Union. Lash's case was by no means unusual. Jews were prominent at all levels of the student movement, both locally and nationally. This prominence reflected the fact that this was not only a nondiscriminatory community, but also a community deeply committed to stopping fascism, a force which Jewish students in this age of Hitler, found especially abhorrent and threatening. 
For African American students too, part of the student movement's appeal lay in this new and non-discriminatory form of community. James Jackson recalled being struck by the contrast between the segregationism and hostility of whites he had encountered while growing up in Richmond, Virginia, and the racial egalitarianism of the student movement. In Richmond, whites came into the African American community "as invaders or policemen, but hardly ever a friendly face." It was in the student movement that Jackson attended his first interracial meetings, and here "for the first time . . . saw white people who acted like they were human beings. They were concerned and humane in all respects. It was quite an experience . . . a nodal point in my life." Jackson was drawn to this community of activists which would not only admit him, but recognize his talents, elevate him to a leadership position, and support his goal of freeing America of racism. 
The student movement's racial and ethnic diversity was part of its attraction for Left-leaning WASP students. In a society segmented by race, ethnicity, and class, the campus activist community afforded an unusual opportunity to transcend these divisions. For an activist like Celeste Strack who came from white suburban San Diego, the movement seemed especially exciting in that it enabled her to befriend and work with students from backgrounds much different than hers. As she began to become politically active at USC, Strack encountered in the student Left a group of foreign students who were "very interesting . . . red politically . . . who brought a kind of intellectual sophistication that was very unusual." Similarly, when Strack transferred to UCLA she grew close to a number of Jewish student activists, who she felt "had a more sophisticated" background politically than she did because they came from radical families. All of this gave Strack a sense that she was moving beyond the provincialism of her past, toward a more cosmopolitan community and more penetrating view of the world. 
This impulse toward a more diverse and egalitarian community was perhaps strongest of all in that small circle of southern student radicals. This was not only true for black activists, as James Jackson described so eloquently, but also for their white counterparts. Junius Scales recalled that as a student at the University of North Carolina, part of the ASU's appeal was that it allowed him to leave behind a past of racial segregation and to move toward a genuinely equal interracial community. Scales joined the ASU after attending a North Carolina student-labor conference that had been organized on an interracial basis:
Once in the ASU, Scales worked to duplicate this experience for other students. He arranged interracial student meetings in Greensboro. The first of these meetings began with "considerable social awkwardness" caused by the inexperience of most students with racially integrated gatherings, but it ended with the participants making "new friends" and gaining "new insight into their differently complexioned counterparts; and there was an atmosphere of unforgettable warmth." 
The egalitarian ethic of the activist community had a special appeal to female undergraduates. Refusing to sanction discrimination in its ranks, the student movement accorded women much more opportunity for political leadership than did most traditional undergraduate institutions, which tended to be male-dominated. It was not at all uncommon for women to head campus chapters of student movement organizations and to assume important roles in regional and national leadership of the movement. According to Hal Draper, during the early 1930s "in SLID, as in the YPSL student activities women were by and large MORE in the leadership than men. At one point, when I was acting as Student Director of the NY YPSL, working closely with SLID, almost the entire regional officers of the SLID were women."  When the ASU was founded in 1935, women occupied two of its six national officer positions. Three years later, as Molly Yard recalled,
This sensitivity to the issue of women's rights also found expression in some of the student movement's anti-fascist rhetoric. American student activists noted with alarm Hitler's reactionary policy toward German women, which would remove them from political life, relegating females to the home and "the three K's-Kinder, Kuche, und Kirche." They expressed outrage when in 1934 the Nazis abolished coeducation in the higher schools of Prussia. "Feminists struggled for a century and a half to reach what little there is today of feminine emancipation," explained the Columbia Spectator. "In sixteen months German fascism has been able to wipe out the work of 150 years .... The women of Germany are to devote themselves exclusively to raising Nazi cannon fodder. They are to be mothers of a new generation of soldiers who must die for the mad schemes of fascist militarism." A Hunter College student leader warned that if the Nazis succeeded, women would be reduced to the status of "slave . . . as . . . [were] their forebears of the Middle Ages." 
Concern about discrimination against women also occasionally found its way into the speeches of student movement leaders. In his address before an international conference of socialist and communist students in Paris, Joseph Lash mentioned the ASU's interest in campaigns to "give greater freedom to the women students who suffer from all sorts of restrictions imposed by the university authorities" in the United States. This concern also appeared in Molly Yard's annual report to the ASU. She pointed out that "Co-eds constitute a special problem-they do not have as good athletic facilities. They live under many rules and regulations while men have none." 
Although such egalitarianism was both significant and radical in the context of 1930s America, it would be an exaggeration to say that the student movement gave high priority to feminist issues. Very few instances occurred where the student movement's position favoring gender equality translated into concrete action against sexual discrimination either in the schools or society.  The movement's leaders sought to be nondiscriminatory in their own ranks, but did not have an extensive feminist agenda or push women's issues the way they pushed on issues of race, class, war, and peace. Thus in the Lash speech quoted above, he mentioned the issue of women's rights last: after first discussing racial discrimination and economic problems. Yard's speech was structured similarly. And in fact, after mentioning the issue of gender discrimination, Yard quickly indicated that this was not the most pressing of problems, since "women are not the worst treated group on campus. Racial groupsespecially Negroes are discriminated against at every turn." 
Yard's words suggest that not even the movement's leading female activists thought of women's issues as paramount. Like their male counterparts, the political agendas of these young women were set by the twin crises of Depression and war and by the larger milieu of the American Left. Generations removed from the suffragettes, women activists on campuses in the 1930s did not possess a fully developed feminist language in which to analyze gender issues. According to Molly Yard, during the Depression decade "we never thought in those days in terms of feminism. It was not a common word." But Yard and other female student activists did display at least elements of a feminist sensibilityeven if they did not have a name for itand held some notion that women should have equal access to positions of power in the movement.  (This is what Yard meant when she noted that "I didn't use the word feminist at that time although I was then and have always been one.") They found their male comrades usually willing to engage in such power sharing. In short, the movement was about as open to sexual equality as the women were themselves.  This opennessalthough not in itself the main precipitant of their politicizationmade the activist community more congenial for women and helped draw them into it.
The significance of the activist community's egalitarianism was not lost on the conservative critics of the student movement. They well understood that the movement had built a community that defied the discriminatory divisions prevalent in Depression America. These critics were as upset about the non-discriminatory manner in which the activist community functioned as they were about the movement's protest activities. This could be seen, for example, in the publications of Elizabeth Dilling, who ranks among the Right's most prolific critics of the student movement. In one of her redbaiting books, published in 1936, Dilling, after condemning the movement for promoting "closer race relations," suggested that the student activist community had sanctioned dangerous violations of the social taboo against interracial sex. Dilling quoted extensively from a rightwing minister, who had observed the second American Youth Congress and testified that
Similar to Dilling's racist attack on the student movement were the xenophobic and anti-Semitic indictments of the movement by her fellow conservatives. At UCLA for example, a rightwinger wrote that the campus administration's attempt to suppress student radicalism during the free speech fight of 1934 was necessary because
The same point was made by the Engineering College Dean at the University of Texas, who attributed the anti-war strike of 1935 to a "bunch of Russians from the East Side of New York." An administrator at DePauw University blamed student radicalism there on "a bunch of neurotic Hebrews," and a Berkeley official claimed that the student Left was composed of "Jews and Russians mostly." Dartmouth's president attributed the rise of student protest on his campus to "the unhappiness and destructive spirit of revolt . . . characteristic of the Jewish race at all times under all conditions .... The jaundiced mulling of that [Jewish] ... portion of our student body which loves to line up against the wailing wall." 
These attacks had two different meanings. On one level, they were irrational ravmgs on the part of prejudiced observers. It is obviously a testament to the depth of academic anti-Semitism that administrators at campuses such as Dartmouth, whose discriminatory admissions policies kept Jewish enrollments to a minimum, could depict Jews as the source of all the radicalism at their schools.  And there was a similar element of unreason and prejudice on Dilling's pages, which made the movement sound like one big interracial orgy. But though colored by fear and prejudice, their indictments were also significant because they caught something of the diversity, the tolerance, the egalitarianism of the student activist community. The movement crossed racial boundaries rarely approached in Depression America, where blacks and whites seldom socialized or cooperated closely. In her own sensationalistic way, this was what Dilling was underscoring, as she brought interracial sex into her account to dramatize the dangers of such racial egalitarianism.
Dilling's repugnance for racial egalitarianism was more explicit but no less strong than that of the campus administrators who scapegoated Jews for the rise of student radicalism. Accustomed to a campus scene in which Jews were kept on the fringes of academic lifebarred from most social clubs, faculty, and top administration poststhese conservative WASP academics had every reason to feel shocked about a student movement which elevated these outcasts to leadership positions. [l02] Coming out of these WASP-dominated institutions, critics such as Dartmouth's president were unable to imagine a truly multi-ethnic movement, and therefore naturally (and incorrectly) assumed that any movement with Jews in its leadership was a Jewish movement. The student movement seemed alien and un-American to conservatives because it rejected the WASP elitism and exclusionism which had been hallmarks of American society and academia. By exposing these conservatives to a new, more open, meritocratic and cosmopolitan vision of the academic world, the student movement scared and infuriated these guardians of the old order.
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