Born from protest, UC San Diego’s Third College brought social justice to the forefront.
It seems quaint that the college could have been named for the Greek muse, Clio, and focus on history and its theory. This was the initial direction at least, back when no one could have known what UC San Diego’s third college would become, and that its origins would be as contentious as they were ambitious. Just as no one could have known, on April 4, 1968, that Martin Luther King, Jr. would be assassinated outside his Memphis, Tenn., hotel room.
“After that, I think people began to be less polite, more demanding and assertive,” says Joe Watson, who would become Third College’s provost following Armin Rappaport and William Frazer, who largely oversaw its conception. Watson was then a chemistry professor and advisor to the Black Student Council, which was under the leadership of student Ed Spriggs ’70, the Council’s founding chair. “King’s murder was an awakening moment,” Spriggs agrees. “We realized that we had to become more forceful with what we were doing on campus.”
The antiwar movement had risen up on campus alongside the civil rights movement, with coalitions of students and faculty actively working together to organize protests, sit-ins, walkouts and rallies for both causes. Students like Angela Davis, MA ’69, could often be found speaking to large groups alongside professors like Herbert Marcuse and Carlos Blanco. The atmosphere teemed with the possibility of change, especially with the prospect of a new college.
After King’s murder, Rappaport proposed a marked shift for Third College. He and the planning committee decided on key goals that would honor Dr. King’s values: recruit disadvantaged students, bring seminars and tutors to local children in the city, and promote the full integration of students of color on campus. The committee stopped short of naming the college for Dr. King, reasoning that it must first live up to his ideals. But with Dr. King as the new muse, discussions began with the Black Student Caucus (BSC) and Mexican American Youth Association (MAYA) to see what they wanted in Third College.
“Ethnic studies departments were getting started back then, but we wanted an entire college,” says early Third College student, Armando Arias Jr. ’76, MA ’77, PhD ’81. “We were excited for the possibility of a third college with a quote-unquote ‘third world’ focus.”
Recalls Spriggs, “We needed a college that would set the example and be the moral leader on campus. And if any college was going to be the leader in the social consciousness of the campus, that was the time.”
The Name That Never Was
BSC and MAYA put forth demands for Third College, with an emphasis on people of color in leadership and faculty roles as well as populations served and studied. The proposed name, Lumumba-Zapata College, would honor Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba alongside Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata. The Lumumba-Zapata Coalition was formed to advocate for these plans, as well as demand a curriculum “devoted to relevant education for minority youth and to the study of the contemporary social problems of all people.”
The proposed curriculum also included studying revolutions around the world, race and class consciousness, economic exploitations and sound community economies, and basic research sciences. Arts and cultural heritage for people of color was also an emphasis, as was recognizing the positive and negative elements at work throughout the history of Western Civilization.
Chancellor McGill was presented with these demands in March 1969. By May, an edited proposal for Third College had passed in the Academic Senate, but the students involved were dissatisfied with the changes and at one point walked out of negotiations. They were joined by over 400 other students on a march to the Registrar’s Office, where they shattered a glass door and occupied the office as the Academic Senate debated the proposal.
When it finally passed, much of the plan’s radical language was not included and the proposed name was not accepted, but its core commitment to students of color was still at the center. Third College was becoming a reality, but this first push would not be the end of its struggles.
Living Up to Ideals
The college’s first years can be described in one word: survival. While Watson defended the nascent college from budget cuts, a cohort of students still thought it was too watered down from the vision of the Lumumba-Zapata Coalition. “There were tensions,” says Watson. “And I think these tensions came about because we found ourselves in a situation in which the founding aspirations were in constant tension and frequent conflict with the priorities of the rest of the campus and administrative requirements and procedures.”
Its existence became even more fragile because of low enrollment rates, causing the college to relax their general education requirements. By 1974, the initial eight required courses were reduced to three. While the Third College Writing Program remained a hallmark of the curriculum, students did not have to take a Third World Studies course, which the original coalition fought to include.
Other founding ideals fell by the wayside as well. The entering freshman class in 1976 was 60 percent White—well short of the original goal of 1/3 Black and 1/3 Mexican-American. In 1980, the top three majors were biology, computer science, and engineering, further distancing Third from the social change it was intended to lead on campus.
Watson, however, reflects on the efforts to make its initial ambitions a reality: “The contributions of those founding coalitions did make progress—maybe not in achieving the ultimate goals, but there was certainly progress.”
There were also lessons to be had, if only in making progress. As Arias remembers, “Third helped me find the context in which to base my activism for the rest of my life.” Though he and his family had a long history of activism in San Diego, Arias credits his time at Third in steering him toward the intersection of education and community building. “Faculty like Charles Thomas emphasized the reciprocity of giving back to the community—our version of service learning back then. So I was going back to the places I knew in San Diego, places where all my cousins were, where my family was. I came to see those places in a new light, with a responsibility that if I’m getting know-how from a university, I’ve got to go back and give. I kept that for the rest of my life.”
It’s fitting that Arias would go on to make his career in academia, particularly in creating colleges and community programs from scratch, all around the nation as well as back home. “I’ve been gone 45 years, but I’ve had a project going on in San Diego every one of them. I helped create a college in my neighborhood, in National City, right across the street from where I was born. We’re convening people right now to start a new university, a Chicanx university in Seattle. If there was one thing I learned at Third, it’s never stop trying, never stop asking. Whether we got it or not, I learned to ask—ask and demand and demand and ask, always have a proposal in your pocket. Some people called it agitation. I just called it an ask.”
Back to Basics
Just as Third College’s shortcomings did not go unnoticed, both students and the administration began thinking of ways to fix them.
Following Faustina Solis, Cecil Lytle became provost in 1988 and effected several developments for the college, including one of the most ambitious projects at UC San Diego altogether. Lytle worked with colleagues Bed Mehan and others on establishing the Preuss School UC San Diego. Originally intended as a campus-wide partnership with a local public school, it evolved into the creation of a charter 6-12 school on campus. “It was a very large test tube, with which we would figure out the pedagogy, the curriculum, and the kind of parent involvement that would maximize the talents of young students who come from disadvantaged communities,” says Lytle. “What’s more, we would have 25,000 examples of the outcomes we wanted to effect walking around right outside the building—college students would be front and center for these youngsters.” Originally composed of portable classrooms on the quad, the school now has a permanent home on east campus and is regularly recognized as a top school in the nation and a model in education.
Lytle would see the college through another monumental endeavor—its naming, despite two decades of students and alumni identifying strongly with their numeric name, Third. Coretta Scott King was reserving her late husband’s name for a college in the south, so other names were floated: Sequoia College, Freedom College, Discovery College, and Ida B. Wells College. In January 1993, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall passed away, inspiring Lytle to advocate for him as namesake. “It seemed a fitting tribute to someone whose whole career was about the issues that founded Third College,” says Lytle.
And as for those founding issues, in 1987, Third College Council developed “Back to the Basics,” a program to get back to the college’s roots and make their history more well-known. This effort came with a major curriculum change, wherein the three course general requirement was replaced with core classes that comprise Dimensions of Culture, or DOC, a series centered around themes of Diversity, Justice, and Imagination. The sequence also came to offer a public service option, where students could tutor children in underserved schools for course credit.
“We wanted our students to be social advocates,” says Ashanti Houston Hands ’93, a Marshall alumna who later became the college’s dean of student affairs. “We wanted them to believe in something, like the founding coalition did. We wanted them to fight for something,” she says.
Reclaiming Marshall College
Fast forward to UC San Diego’s winter of 2010, when there was certainly something to fight for. After a series of racially charged incidents—in particular the “Compton Cookout,” an off-campus party that used racist stereotypes to mock Black History Month—campus boiled over with anger and high-profile protests and demonstrations. Internally, the outrage brought new scrutiny to Marshall College’s shortcomings living up to its founding ideals. It was not lost on anyone that Black students comprised only 1.3 percent of the student body at the time. That period, known as Black Winter, heightened the desire to transform Marshall College and the campus.
Fnann Keflezighi ’11, then a Marshall College junior and co-chair of the Black Student Union, recalls the university’s initial response: “We didn’t think a teach-in would resolve the issue. It wasn’t the time to learn the historical or social context by which a Compton Cookout could happen,” says Keflezighi. “The institution itself needed to change its character, to better show the values that could prevent such events from being held.”
Like her Third College forebears, Keflezighi called for students to walk out of the teach-in and was a figure in the public protests thereafter. “Reckoning with these issues has to be public,” she says. “Even right now as a country, in a very public way, we are reckoning with issues that have been behind closed doors for a very long time.”
Keflezighi would return to Marshall in her career, now the interim assistant dean of student affairs. As such, she’s continuing to drive the change initiated when she was a student. After the Black Winter, Marshall reenvisioned its DOC program again. “We tried to introduce students to concepts and analytical tools that would give the history of various inequalities in U. S. society,” says Jorge Mariscal, professor and former director of DOC. “A lot of the language we introduced is what you hear now broadly in the media over the last few months—structural inequalities, white supremacy, gender inequities—these terms are being used freely now. People didn’t speak so openly about such things the way they do now. My hope is that what our students learned has been useful to them, especially now in this time of turbulent change.”
Provost Allan Havis led the college and curriculum through this continued revisioning, paving the way for Marshall’s current provost, Leslie Carver, who arrived in 2017. Carver would soon set to work with current DOC program director Amanda Solomon Amorao, MA ’07, PhD ’11, to incorporate a new quarter-long research project to DOC’s Imagination component, in which students investigate campus issues and propose, and often execute, real-world solutions. The latter part of the project was in fact student-led, enacted after groups approached Provost Carver with the desire to actually make their proposed solutions a reality.
“It’s important to let students understand the opportunities and possibilities that are available for them,” says Provost Carver, remarking on the number of projects already brought to fruition, such as UC San Diego’s first Kumeyaay Community Garden, initiated by Jonathan Kim ’20. It’s the kind of change that fellow graduate Melina Reynoso ’20 is proud of—taking their place in a continuum of agency and motivation to make a mark on our university, via the college that was, after all, made by students.
“Learning about our history through the Dimensions of Culture program showed me that students can enact change—substantial change at our university, if they pull together and if they have the will to do so. I wouldn’t have known what’s possible without learning about the past, specifically the history of Marshall College.”
This year marks Marshall College’s 50th Anniversary.
Join us for a year-long series of special events and programs to commemorate this milestone. Learn more at marshall.ucsd.edu
Do you have stories from your time at Third or Marshall College? Share your memories with us at firstname.lastname@example.org