Organizing a meeting on the Oval, being kicked off a bus and staging a demonstration in the administration building all led to the creation of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.
As the Frank W. Hale, Jr. Ohio State Black Cultural Center celebrates its 30th anniversary this October, Ohio State faculty and alumni reflect on the student movements ignited by the OSU 34, a group that led the takeover of the administration building in protest of discrimination against African American students in the late 1960s. The protest established the groundwork for future black student organizations and the eventual Office of Diversity and Inclusion.
Today, Lawrence Williamson, Jr. is the director of the office and the cultural center, but he initially came to Ohio State in the early 1980s as a graduate administrative associate under Hale in the Office of Minority Affairs — which became the Office of Diversity and Inclusion in 2012.
“The OSU 34, from my understanding, laid the foundation for everything else we have beyond that point,” Williamson said.
African Americans wanted three things from Ohio State: More black faculty, more black students and assurance that the climate at the university would be conducive for African American students, Williamson said.
Mike Williams — then a student in philosophy — was a founding member of the Black Student Union and organizer of the student-led protests and demonstrations during the late ’60s.
Williams, who was also on campus in the early ’60s, said there was little consideration for African-American students on campus then, but the environment was very different toward the latter half of the decade.
“The world was opening up,” Williams said. “The idea of opportunity meant academic, not being just able to be there, but to be discovered, to be appreciated, to learn, to interact in a way that was in kind of a university tradition. You were not on the side. You were not willing to be on the side. You wanted to be in the midst of it all.”
Williams said the Black Student Union was created in fall 1967 following a series of summer meetings among African American students to fight for better treatment of African American students on campus.
“Our first demonstration was at the five brothers, a group of trees on the Oval, to declare our presence on campus,” Williams said.
The reception from the demonstration was fairly positive and helped educate students about the plight of African American students, Williams said.
“The black student movement is not just to confront this sort of white establishment,” Williams said. “It’s sort of to ring the bell for black students who’ve not associated this way and to rally them.”
During the movement, one incident would emerge involving Laquita Henry, a student in political science at the time.
Henry, a class of 1971 alumna, said a bus driver had overheard a conversation between her and three other students about a previous Black Student Union meeting and was displeased. The bus driver kicked her off the bus along with the others.
“We told him that he didn’t have a right to do that, and we had a right to our conversation,” Henry said. “We felt the courage to stand up and tell him that he was wrong.”
After the incident, Williams said plans were made in April 1968 for a demonstration at the administration building that eventually took control of the building.
The students who took part in the administration takeover would become known as OSU 34, and many of them were expelled, including John Sidney Evans — who was the spokesperson for the Black Student Union at the time.
“They gave their career to make sure that other people at OSU could have opportunities that actually followed them,” Williamson said.
Williamson said the efforts of the Black Student Union and the OSU 34 resulted in the hiring of faculty members such as Frank W. Hale, William E. Nelson and Charles Ross, who carried the message of the Black Student Union and challenged the university from an administrative perspective.
“You had students leading the forefront,” Williamson said. “They brought in the appropriate faculty and staff, who’d work along with them to achieve the goal of having an Office of Diversity and Inclusion, which we have now, which was the Office of Minority Affairs.”
Williamson said the result of what Nelson and Hale did in the late ’70s and early ’80s made the Office of Minority Affairs the best in the nation. Ohio State became the leading university in black students earning doctorate degrees, and the black studies program was the best in the nation, Williamson said.
The contributions made from student demand were pushed further by faculty support and led to the university’s agreement to build a Black Cultural Center in 1985, which became a reality in 1989, Williamson said.
“There was a little back and forth about it as we went,” Williamson said. “It was our student organizations that got the Black Cultural Center, but it was Dr. Hale that kept it on the burner and made sure we actually achieved it.”