Early Protests: 1965-1968

Northeastern students were slow to participate in the anti-War movement as compared to other Boston area students. With a traditional focus on professional education and co-op rather than liberal arts studies, the University had a relatively conservative student body and the largest voluntary ROTC chapter in the country as of 1968.

The first documented Vietnam War protest on campus occured in December 1965. The Northeastern News sponsored an event in support of the War which drew some 2,000 students, many from the Young Republicans, Young Americans for Freedom, and Students for Goldwater groups. Only about fifteen anti-War picketers challenged the group. In May 1966, the University’s SDS chapter co-sponsored a “Viet-Critique” along with the newly formed, less radical Northeastern Committee to End the War in Vietnam. The event drew about 200 students, with information tables set up around campus to encourage dialogue between War supporters and critics.
Students with the SDS became more active in 1967, targeting the ROTC program and the administration’s financial complicity in the War. In February, the group held a sit-in protesting recruiters from the napalm manufacturer Dow Chemical Corporation. Another anti-War rally in April brought counter-protestors, throwing eggs and firecrackers at SDS students. Despite the pushback, SDS members continued to demonstrate that spring, attending a peace rally in New York City in April and protesting U.S. Navy recruiters on campus in May. Also that spring,  the Student Council had moved to petition the Faculty Senate to review Northeastern’s policy to give academic credit for ROTC courses. By the end of 1967, about 600 students attended an anti-War demonstration, and the campus ROTC debate intensified.


In February 1968, the Northeastern SDS chapter co-hosted a “Dissent or Resist” all-night teach-in event in collaboration with the  Northeastern University Teaching Committee and Boston Area Faculty Group on Public Issues. Despite the anti-War effort’s gains, many on campus still favored American involvement in Vietnam. That same month, the Northeastern News reported that the majority of undergraduates “Favor[ed Viet Escalation” based on a voluntary poll sponsored by the Interfraternity Council.
Throughout 1968, students seemed to grow more disenchanted with economic and political affairs. Financial aid cuts and the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy depleted student morale. The War continued, and Northeastern students watched as student protests around the world turned violent, with significant protests occurring in May at Columbia University and in Paris, France. In November, Richard Nixon was elected president of the United States. Escalation at Northeastern was not far off: by the spring of 1969, anti-War protests would dominate campus headlines.