“We Closed Down the Damn School”: The Party Culture and Student Protest at Southern Illinois University During the Vietnam War Era



In May 1970, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale (SIUC), was one of hundreds of college campuses that shut down for the rest of the term in the wake of violence that followed the killing of four students by the National Guard at Kent State University. This article analyzes the makeup of the student movement at SIUC, arguing that it was composed of three strains: student rights, New Left, and what we call the “party culture.” Local issues such as the hours women had to be in their dormitories at night brought such groups together in an attempt to gain control over their own lives. The movement did not turn its full attention to the Vietnam War until it had a local symbol of university complicity with the war, the controversial Vietnamese Studies Center. In detailing the events at SIUC, we challenge the standard narrative of the sixties that treats the later part of the decade as a period of “decline.” We argue that the movement was still going strong, not only in spite of but because of the turn to a more expressive politics.