The Student Strike That Changed Higher Ed Forever

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES & SHEREEN MARISOL MERAJI

Today, ethnic studies is an accepted part of academia. Many if not most college students have taken a course or two. But 50 years ago, studying the history and culture of any people who were not white and Western was considered radical. Then came the longest student strike in U.S. history, at San Francisco State College, which changed everything.

The groundwork was laid for the strike a couple of years before, when black students organized to press for a black studies department and the admission of more black students.

One of those organizers, Jimmy Garrett, was older and had worked in the civil rights movement in the South. He met a student named Jerry Varnado at a Negro Students’ Association meeting, and the two helped assemble various black groups on campus into the very first Black Student Union.

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