Panic, Power, and Progress: Looking Back Fifty Years Ago at Drew

Looking back on the spirit of the sixties as reflected by the students of Drew in September 1969

September 1969: Nixon has been the president for eight months, Neil Armstrong just walked on the moon, Americans continue the campaign in Vietnam, and Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings hits store shelves. Astronomical highs of the human spirit are being underscored by existential lows. To welcome the class of 2023 this fall and all those returning classes, we thought it would be interesting to look back fifty years to the first issue of the 1969-70 school year, when the class of 1973 was moving in along with heavy liberalism, rationed idealism, and plenty of preemptive dining hall complaints. 

The front page of the Acorn reads, “Near-panic of ‘73 enters: 400 frosh vs. higher ed,” a group deemed “unexpectedly large,” for a school who only twenty-seven years ago admitted the first women-inclusive class. In 2019, the Princeton Review recognized Drew’s commitment to race/class interactions, a sentiment that hearkens back to 1969 when, “A direct effort was made, for the first time, to enroll more students from economically underprivileged backgrounds.” One can imagine that the teachings of progressive leaders were starting to take effect, allowing Drew to contextualize itself in terms of neighboring Newark, Patterson, the Oranges, and New York City.

Page ten exhibits a crudely drawn diagram of the power structure of Drew University along with two articles titled “The powers and the others,” and “Who’s who in money, policy, rules.” The climate of the sixties saw many student protests on colleges across America dealing with topics from race to pettier problems like the erection of a new building. Providing the power structure of the college as well as noting that, “Although students are at the bottom of the structure, they are not totally powerless,” exemplifies a culture of student-led change in a system that could be, “without definite plan or direction.” Some of the demonstrations during this time had to do with US involvement in the Vietnam War, access to gynecological services on campus, and solidarity with black activists in the South.

It’s impossible to view the sixties without acknowledging the impacts of the Sexual Revolution, drug culture, and the civil rights movement on young people. An interesting survey on page eight of this paper shows the results of a poll given to three-hundred thirty-seven students that garnered two-hundred forty-four replies, roughly half of a class at Drew in a given year. 

Topics ranged from opinions on drugs and racial integration to how they feel about Drew. Since marijuana was largely stigmatized by pop culture and the government, many students supported legalization “if it is no more damaging than e.g. liquor,” showing the lack of public research on the substance. Most men and women said that they did not expect to “become engaged within the next four years,” a sign of the shifting conversation on marriage in a young person’s life. A majority responded positively to “Martin Luther King,” the non-violent civil rights leader, while another majority responded negatively to “Muhammad Ali,” an award-winning Muslim boxer who challenged the United States’s involvement in the Vietnam War. Among the cited reasons why students in 1969 decided to come to Drew, “Proximity to NYC,” “Coeducation,” and “Small student body,” ranked among the top three for men and women. 

Drew has continued to build-up the same programs that brought students there in 1969. With multiple New York semesters, a thriving Women’s and Gender Studies Department along with a Women’s Concerns House, and small class sizes, Drew’s appeal has been cultivated to suit the institution’s long-established strengths. 

Below is a readable PDF of the paper, where this information was found, dating from September 9, 1969. The Acorn Archives is currently working on making all past issues of the paper searchable. Check back later in the year on our “Digital Issues” section for updates.


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