Echoes of 1969

In May 1965, the first campus protest saw 25 students, faculty and staff stand against U.S. intervention in the Dominican Republic.

When the first class of 185 undergraduates arrived at UC San Diego in 1964, they wore blue and gold beanies, lined up for booster shots and bought stacks of books for what they knew would be a grueling workload. It was innocent, idyllic and altogether “normal” for the time. There was no sign that the decade’s end would bring perhaps the most contentious and consequential period in the history of American higher education—and San Diego was no exception.

Within the year, those first freshmen would see the first protest ever held on campus. In May 1965, about 25 students, faculty and staff demonstrated against U.S. intervention in the Dominican Republic, carrying hand-painted signs and behaving peaceably. The event was mild, but still shocked the surrounding community, one that had welcomed the university and expected it to produce educated, respectable professionals.

The years to come would bring student demonstrations to another level, such as this anti-CIA protest outside the Coffee Hut—now the Che Café.

And yes, UC San Diego did that. But it was still a university, full of young minds being taught to think for themselves. Politics have always played a part in campus life, but this generation of students changed the terms of engagement. The student rebellion of 1969 was largely directed in opposition to the Vietnam War, but it also signaled something deeper: a refusal to accept authority without question. There were demonstrations against military recruitment, scrutiny from government officials, student takeovers of buildings, and an abundance of anti-war speeches and marches. There were arrests and protests, strikes and distrust, strife and tragedy.

UC San Diego was a new university, unencumbered by tradition or precedent, defining itself with every year and every new class of graduates. The years surrounding 1969 began a new “normal” for our university, as a place to stand up and seek change. And with each new voice that speaks out, it has become a place to be heard.

—Roger Showley ’70


“A year in which a steady stream of issues kept the administration worried, the local community uptight, the committed students busy and the uncommitted in a constant quandary.”

—Steve Landau
Triton Times, June 6, 1969