The Quest for a Black Culture House

Reactions to the racial unrest at Loras College triggered a variety of responses from Loras Students, faculty, and the greater Dubuque community. Many individuals greatly disapproved of the black students' actions. Many others greatly disapproved of the administration’s initial disciplinary actions before the demonstrators' indefinite suspensions were reduced to probations.

Faculty Reactions————————————————————————————

President Driscoll announced the reversal of the harsh disciplinary measures on Sunday, November 9, 1969, after the 16 black students refused to leave campus and held another sit-in at Keane Hall. On Monday, November 10, members of the Loras faculty began a three-day session to discuss the events of the week prior. Driscoll began the meeting with prayer and opening statements. He asked for the faculty’s support in his decisions. When they reconvened on Tuesday, the faculty passed a motion 48 to 22 to remove Driscoll as chairmen of the meeting (1). Dr. Thomas Auge (chairmen of the history department) spoke out against Driscoll. He wrote an entry in his journal dated November 23, 1969, where he recalled the events of the evening:

(Transcript below)

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So I decided to attack [Driscoll] at the faculty meeting Tuesday afternoon. The weight of the attack was to be directed against his consistent refusal to follow a faculty committee’s recommendation, in this case the discipline committee.
So I took over the floor at 4:00 o’clock to give my point of view. Apparently I talked too long, although I was not emotional or vindictive about it. I received very little support, partly because the meeting had to end at 5:30.
When it was all over I was terribly shook up by it all. Nothing has bothered me so much since the death of my parents (2).

Although Auge faced considerable oppositionat the faculty meetings, after Driscoll was removed as chairman the faculty did agree to take a position in support of the students. They drafted and adopted sections of the document section by section. When completed, they discussed, edited, amended, and finally passed their official statement on Wednesday, November 12. They began by rooting their response in the Catholic Tradition, citing the “Declaration on Christian Education,” approved at the Second Vatican Council.

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“When Loras College made serious efforts to recruit black students,” they continued, ”it did so in the belief that as a Christian college it has the obligation to make its contribution to the well-being of a segment of American society which through past and present injustices has been placed and kept in an underprivileged position. We subscribe to that belief” (3).

Auge’s journal entries suggest he believed Loras did not adequately support the black students it recruited. This was especially problematic due to the racial climate of the city. He stated, “Still, when put into the framework of situation of the black man in the United States and especially in white racist Dubuque, the black student request is not out of line… Such issues of course bring the race problem to the front for each of us. For most whites, of course, it is simple matters.” (2). 

The faculty statement made a clear objection to the strategy of the sit in, stating,

We firmly assert that physical force or "threat of physical force" is never acceptable in an academic community. "Even though we understand that for some the use of physical force is a tempting alternative, and that for some it seems to be the only apparently viable course for men who have been repeatedly frustrated and consistently ignored, we hold that such physical force is never to be sanctioned. We condemn physical force or the threat of physical force that in turn violates the rights of others. In an academic community, physical strength is not a standard definition of truth or right. Let it not be thought that disruptive physical force or the threat of physical force can be used at will with impunity (3).

In his journal, Auge expressed his disagreement with the position that a sit-in should be seen as a violent action. He felt that the black student’s strategy to hold a sit-in at Henion Manor might raise objections, but he explained that “I am not certain this is legitimate,” as violence was not used by the black students (2). No evidence exists to suggest that the students threatened violence, yet using self-defense if necessary was fundamental to their Black Power mindset.

Finally, the faculty report recognized the need for positive action by endorsing a culture center, suggesting Loras recruit fulltime black faculty members, and that the Loras community continue to build relationships with black students (3).

The Lorian————————————————————————————————————————————————

Following the week of unrest on campus, The Lorian—the campus newspaper—released three articles that, taken together, suggest the Lorian staff was sympathetic to the black students. The first article, titled “Henion Occupation Results in Probation,” takes up a full-page spread. The article summarized the sit-in at Henion Manor and Keane Hall, as well as the administrative actions to follow (1). The following page of The Lorian pairs two articles together, titled “Can We Support a Black Community?” and “‘Raiders’ Cause Damage.” As the title suggests, the first article asks its readers to contemplate whether Loras can support its black students. The author of the article claims that as an institution, Loras no longer upheld the same standards as it did when black students were initially recruited. They continue, “We at Loras must learn to accept the fact that if we want a black community in our midst, all of us—not just Msgr. Driscoll—are going to have to prepare to make some sacrifices to keep it.” The article argues that those responsible for the racial unrest have failed to “learn to serve” as their Christian faith calls them to (2).

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As the title suggests, the first article asks its readers to contemplate whether Loras can support its black students. The author of the article claims that as an institution, Loras no longer upheld the same standards as it did when black students were initially recruited. They continue, “We at Loras must learn to accept the fact that if we want a black community in our midst, all of us—not just Msgr. Driscoll—are going to have to prepare to make some sacrifices to keep it.” The article argues that those responsible for the racial unrest have failed to “learn to serve” as their Christian faith calls them to (5).

The second article, “‘Raiders’ Cause Damage,” does not cover events related to the racial unrest on campus. Rather, the article recounts an event that took place over a month earlier. On September 25, 1969, an estimated 200 Loras students held a “panty raid” at Clarke College’s Mary Josita Hall. In about 20 minutes, Loras men broke windows, caused other property damage and stole clothing and personal property of the female dormitory residents.. The Lorian reported that the total cost of stolen items and property damage from the night was well over $600. Additionally, a handful of Clarke students were “subjected to physical abuse approaching the legal definition of assault and battery, being dragged across the floor of the building, and pushed into walls.” One young woman reported bruising running the length of her leg, from her hip to her ankle. The Lorian also reported that all dormitory residents were “subjected to foul, profane and abusive language for no apparent purpose except the amusement of those Lorasmen participating.” One month later, on October 25, Loras Student Senate President Bill Schrier drafted a resolution that called for reparations and prosecution of the guilty Lorasmen. Clarke students arrived on campus to plead their case, but The Lorian reported that the Senate enthusiastically moved for adjournment without even considering them or Schrier’s resolution” (3). 

In addition to this compelling pairing of articles, The Lorian included a cartoon to stress further the hypocrisy in the situation. At the center of the drawing is a two-faced man wearing academic regalia and a crucifix around his neck. To the left, the man in regalia is looking at a black Loras student with an angry expression, with his hand balled tightly in a fist. The black student is hanging from a noose in front of Henion Manor, with his hands bound tightly behind his back. To the right, the man in regalia is looking at a white Loras student with a pleased expression and is pointing his hand upward in an approving manor. The white student is standing in front of Clarke College, smiling with his head bowed and hands folded, holding a piece of women’s lingerie between them. Underneath the man in regalia is a balance scale, labeled “JUSTICE.” On the left, the side of the black student, the scale is empty. On the right, the side of the white student, there are stacks of coins and dollar bills, captioned “$600 damages.” However, the scale is tipped towards the empty side of the scale. Under the scale is the Loras motto, “Pro Deo et Patria” or “For God and Country.”

The Lorian staff made the symbolism of this illustration clear at the end of their article on the panty raid at Clarke. They explained:

We find it totally appalling that such decadent and ruinous activity can be so casually passed over by the Loras community. Nowhere did we hear the chorus of reproach from alumni, friends and benefactors that arose after 16 black students occupied Henion Manor.

16 black Lorasmen occupied a building in what they considered a serious and desperate cause. Personal rights were violated, but none of the 16 can be accused of causing property damage or physical violence. Vengeance upon them was swiftly initiated and advocated—save for an eleventh-hour pardon by Msgr. Driscoll (6).

The Lorian continues to complain that 50 to 60 positively identified Loras students have faced no consequence for their participation in the panty raid. The editors of the Lorian concluded:

.…which brings us to some speculation about racist attitudes on this campus and in Dubuque. But perhaps it is not correct to attach a “racist” label to this issue. Could it be that the academic and civic communities do not mind students who expend their energies on traditional “pranks.” Perhaps only those students who are seriously and desperately concerned about changing the obsolete but secure way of doing things can rouse a reaction from the typically numbed sensibilities of people in this vicinity (6).
"Perhaps while trying to establish a Christian identity for this the oldest college in Iowa, we have somehow turned the entire Christian concept around. When Christ fed the five thousand he didn’t allow the crowd to go hungry while he put the question through proper channels" (6).

White Response————————————————————————————

Many Loras students and Dubuque community members argued about the racial unrest at Loras. For several weeks following the sit-ins, several white Dubuquers wrote opinion pieces that were published in the Telegraph Herald. Many people did not fully understand the complexity of the racial issue, falling into common presuppositions about Black Power and the motivations held by Loras’ black students. Conversely, numerous other people wrote to the Telegraph Herald to combat these misconceptions and defend the black students’ actions.

In response, the Loras College Student Senate sponsored a panel discussion titled “Loras to America: White vs. Black” to help the community understand the events that recently took place on campus. Ralph Navarro (chairmen of the Program Committee at Loras College), Patrick Winn (Student Senate vice-president at Loras College), Dr. Thomas Auge (chairmen of History at Loras College), Reverend Lawrence Burke (professor of philosophy at Loras College), and Reverend James Barta (professor of psychology at Loras College) spoke at the event. No black students were on the panel. Navarro, a white senior at Loras College stated in the spirit of Black Power, “whites must educate whites.” Navarro explained the goal of the panel was "not to pass judgement on the events of the past week, but to give possible causes for what happened" (7).

“…maybe the Henion take-over was juvenile and immature, and then again maybe it wasn’t. Maybe it was a desperate move to focus attention on a need when other channels failed to gain that attention… This is not to justify all the things that took place last week. It is a request that we try to understand. Let us ask ourselves, “What are the blacks trying to tell us? And why are we afraid to listen?” Could it be that to listen, to learn, would mean to change accepted concepts? This is the real challenge which last week’s occurrences present to us” (8).

Sister Nancy Meyerhofer to the Telegraph Herald

Some members of the community felt that Dubuque was a small town so students should not come in expecting to "live by the big college, big town ways and have the same rights" (9). However, when Reverend Eugene Kutsch was defending the black floor of Keane Hall in 1968, he explained, “…Loras is just a reflection of the rest of America, and America is racist” (10). Auge explained during the panel that “the history of the United States is a history of racism.” Rather than excuse discriminatory practices because Dubuque is a small town, Auge believed that the events at Loras needed to be considered in light of American history, in which racism has been a part of since its beginning (7).

Joseph Owens (Junior Senator at Loras College) and Ed Norris (Sophomore Senator at Loras College) explained the mindset of most Dubuquers in their letter to the Telegraph Herald on November 25, 1969. They eloquently explained, “The basic problem remains, that of initiating changes. Students at Loras are asking for changes, and let’s face it—no matter how many dikes Dubuque builds, the flood of change will eventually overflow them" (11).

At the panel discussion, Student Senate vice-president Winn explained, “The white man has America for his culture house; the black man in a totally white community has nothing" (7). Many people who wrote in to the Telegraph Herald disagreed with this. And many of the people who did believe that the black students would benefit from a culture house condemned their methods. One Telegraph Herald commentor explained that they admired Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others who "peacefully demanded their rights and proceeded to demand them by means within the law,” but individuals who use methods of fire, looting, and armed force were engaging in “A crusade of law breaking for their own gain" (12). Another opponent believed explained that the Loras black students broke laws during the sit-in, “which were made so men of all color and creed could live together in peace" (13).

At the panel discussion, Professor Burke combated this belief, stating, “It takes a man of great heart and great head to say he’s going to enter that shady area of breaking the law.” He argued that openly braking unjust civil laws can be a morally upright action. He concluded, “Thank God there are some men who are willing to enter this area” (7).