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November 19, 1974

Discussing the Afro American Cultural Center, the deputy commissioner of education said between “the goal of integration and the goal of freedom of choice of students to live where they are most comfortable” the Regents gave priority to integration.

At a campus discussion sponsored by the trustee committee on minority students of the ongoing dispute with the New York State Board of Regents on the status of the Afro American Cultural Center (AACC) in Kendrick House, Edward Hollander, deputy commissioner of education—citing “the ideals of this nation so movingly represented by the life of the Rev. Martin Luther King”—stated the Regents understood the view that the AACC helped students adjust to “multracial” and “strange” circumstances.” But, he said, between “the goal of integration and the goal of freedom of choice of students to live where they are most comfortable,” the Regents gave priority to integration. The AACC was, he said, “an example of instutionalized segregation.”

Several speakers—Vice President for Student Affairs John Duggan for the administration; Angela Fox ’77 for the Kendrick students; Professor Marion Tait, chair of the faculty policy and conference committee; Erica Ryland ’75, president of the Student Government Association (SGA); Krishan Saini, assistant professor of economics and faculty house fellow; and Ray Bank ’75, for the house presidents—spoke in support of the AACC. College Chaplain George Williamson, Professor of Chemistry Curt Beck and Professor of History Norman Hodges, appearing as members of college community, also voiced their support.

“Ms. Fox,” wrote the chronicler over many months of the Kendrick dispute, Miscellany News reporter Debbie Seaman ’75, “accused the Regents of ignoring the underlying conditions of the issue and ’treating the symptoms instead of the disease,’ and she maintained that forced integration would create hostility…. Ms. Tait said that this type of social experiementation is extremely important to the role that institutions of higher learning play in the larger society. ‘As free, self-governing intellectual communities, we can test both cooncepts and means in ways that the larger society cannot afford’…. For the Regents to place restrictions on this freedom would be a mistake.”

“After formal statements were made,” Seaman concluded, “several questions concerning Regents’ policy were put to Mr. Hollander. John Blassingame, one of the members of the trustee comittee on minority students,…cited the Regents’ position paper as saying that its purpose was not to prohibit the creation of combined academic and residential units and asked it the AACC was not such a unit. Mr. Hollander made a statement in reply which he admitted was an effort not to answer the question…. He claimed that blacks on other campuses have managed to solve the problem of integration while retaining their identities, yet he was at a loss to give an example of this. He admitted that he felt ‘uncomfortable in answering these very specific questions.’” The Miscellany News

The following May, after a year and a half of negotiation and facing mounting legal costs and threats of both loss of state financial aid and possible rescission of Vassar’s charter, the trustees voted to return Kendrick House to its original purpose—faculty housing—to relocate the cultural center to a site on campus and to house all black students in campus residence halls. Vassar and Cornell University were the last institutions of higher education in New York State to relinquish the position that mixed campus housing where African American students were in the majority did not constitute segregation.

The Years