Saturday, March 24, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 14: Back In Furnald Hall, 1968

Chapter 14: Back In Furnald Hall, 1968 (i)

A few weeks into February 1968, I was assigned a share of a dorm room on an upper floor of Furnald Hall. Coincidentally, my roommate turned out to be another Columbia SDS hard-core activist who was from my childhood neighborhood in Queens. His name was Stu.

Stu had grown up in an affluent working-class garden apartment development in Glen Oaks—just a few miles from the Beech Hills development where I had lived. Like Robby, Stu had entered Columbia a year after me. His father was neither rich nor a professional, but Stu had been a socially-concerned student leader at Bayside High School, with a strong interest in civil rights and war and peace issues. During his 1965-66 senior year at Bayside, Stu had been mobbed by hostile right-wing students, after he organized the screening of an anti-war film at the high school. During his high school years, Stu had been somewhat active in the United Synagogue Youth movement. But by the time I first noticed him during my sophomore year, when Stu was a freshman, he seemed to be pretty much of an atheist or an agnostic, despite still identifying himself as ethnically Jewish.

During his freshman year at Columbia, Stu—like Robby—appeared to devote more time to his academic work than to political anti-war activism. In Spring 1967, however, when we both lived in Furnald Hall in different rooms, I recall noticing him in the dorm lobby more frequently, arguing with students about the morality of the U.S. war effort in Viet Nam and lecturing them in a stern way if they opposed his anti-war views. Stu seemed more easy-going when not talking about politics and more concerned about his academic career than in getting involved in day-to-day Columbia SDS chapter politics overall though, at this time. At best, he could be counted on to circulate a petition on his dormitory floor and do some dormitory floor canvassing from time to time.

In Summer 1967, however, Stu worked in Columbia’s “Double Discovery” program as a counselor and became more radicalized. By Fall 1967, Stu had become much more active in Columbia SDS organizing and was taking the initiative in setting up floor meetings and lobby meetings in Furnald Hall, under Columbia SDS auspices. By early 1968, he seemed to have lost much of his interest in Columbia’s institutional academic life and was spending most of his time either reading leftist and old CP-published books on his own, setting up floor meetings, dorm lobby meetings or teach-ins, arguing with Columbia students who weren’t yet leftist about racism and the war, or attending Columbia SDS strategy meetings.

What struck me most about Stu before I moved into Furnald Hall to share a dorm room with him was his restless energy and the degree to which, like me and the other hard-core Columbia SDS people, he had become obsessed with the need to resist the immorality of U.S. intervention in Viet Nam and Columbia’s ties to the U.S. war machine. Although we shared radical political beliefs, Stu and I didn’t become that personally close as a result of sharing a dorm room. We both generally spent most of the time out of the dorm room and used it only as a place to sleep.

Stu didn’t respect Teddy politically and he didn’t like Ted too much. He did, however, feel that Nancy was quite beautiful and he seemed to respect Teddy for being able to sustain a love relationship with a beauty such as Nancy. In addition to regarding Nancy as beautiful, though, Stu also regarded her, in this pre-feminist era, as too domineering a woman.

Around this time, Mark split up with Sue. He appeared to spend a few weeks wandering around campus to search for other possible female companions. I recall seeing him walking around with his English-accented old friend, with whom I had seen him occasionally during the previous year. When I visited him in his apartment one night, Mark said to me after I entered the apartment: “I have a new girlfriend.”

“That’s good,” I replied.

Then Mark went into the kitchen and, as he affectionately escorted Sue into the apartment hallway, he smiled and said: “Here she is.”

I started to laugh and Sue and Mark started to laugh with me.

Around this time, Sue seemed to wish to match me up with one of her unattached friends. She invited me to her own apartment for dinner with Mark’s unattached roommate, Neumann, and two of her unattached women friends. But since I was the only one who was heavily into Columbia SDS activism, and the other people had different interests from each other, the dinner conversation soon became boring. So we all left early from Sue’s dinner party.

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