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Virtual panel will explore History of Political Activism at NIU

September 21, 2020

Generations of politically engaged students have had their voices heard on NIU’s campus.

From the Civil Rights Movement to the Vietnam War to every pivotal event in history, Huskies have responded in passionate and meaningful ways throughout the years.

As the 2020 presidential election fast approaches and in celebration of NIU’s 125th anniversary, an upcoming event will explore “The History of Political Activism at NIU.”

The virtual roundtable discussion will take place at 7 p.m. Sept. 24 as part of the 125th Anniversary Lecture Series at NIU.

Featuring four panelists and moderated by Matt Streb, NIU’s Chief of Staff to the President, liaison to the Board of Trustees and a professor of Political Science, the discussion will examine the role political activism has played on campus throughout its history with a particular focus on the last 50 years.

“I think if you look at what’s happened politically at the federal level this year, we’ve seen our students very engaged,” Streb said. “To understand what previous generations of students went through and how they used their voices is really valuable.”

Similar to campuses across the country, NIU has served as a setting for key political activism events, especially in the late 1960s and 1970s, Streb said.

Tensions were at a boiling point as more than a thousand student protesters blocked the Kishwaukee Bridge on Lincoln Highway. President Smith tried to convince them to move, but when that failed, he simply sat down with them and talked. While the incident ended in some arrests, many believe Smith defused a situation that could easily have escalated into something much worse.

A black-and-white image of former NIU President Rhoten Smith sitting in peaceful protest beside students on a bridge following the shootings at Kent State University in May of 1970 reflects just one of many memorable moments.

Panelists will share stories and their own perspectives on political activities and events that took place on campus during major eras in history. The panelists include:

  • John Butler, NIU alumnus and current member of the Board of Trustees
  • Sue Doederlein, Emeritus Professor
  • Cindy Henderson, NIU alumnus and long-time employee
  • Joe Sosnowski, NIU alumnus and current member of the Illinois General Assembly

Those interested from the NIU community and beyond are invited to join the virtual event on Microsoft Teams.