6 lesser-known historical facts, events about Rutgers

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Photo by Edwin Gano |

With Rutgers' 250th anniversary soon approaching, historian and Rutgers professor Paul Clemens has released a book detailing the University's history since 1945. From student protests of the 1960s and 1970s to one of the first national LGBTQ groups on a college campus, Clemens chronicles every aspect of the institution's past.

Here are six lesser-known historical facts and events about Rutgers that are detailed in Clemens's book:

1. Undercover professor: A Rutgers anthropology professor once went undercover as a student living in the Bishop Quads in order to study student life in residence halls. In 1977, professor Michael Moffatt tried "passing as an average, out-of-state freshman" despite the fact that he had been teaching at the University for four years. Clemens writes, "it took (Moffatt's) roommates a few days to uncover his identity as a college professor." After discovering his identity, the students in the residence hall played their own trick on Moffatt by putting shaving cream in his shoes.

2. A down-sized Dance Marathon: The first Dance Marathon in 1970 raised almost $18,000. The charity event was sponsored by Zeta Beta Tau fraternity (ZBT), and only two dozen couples danced over a three-day period, paying $10 for entrance. Compare this to last year's dance marathon, where more than $600,000 was raised and more than 800 students danced.

Photo: The Daily Targum

3. How fraternities changed discriminatory policies: During the period after World War II, there were no black students in fraternities. Seven fraternities at Rutgers prohibited memberships to black students, as required by their national charters, so students took the lead in creating change. In 1949, the student council argued that if a local chapter discriminated, then it should be barred from campus. The council stated that local chapters should work toward changing the discriminatory policies of their national organization. The Board of Trustees eventually accepted the student council's position and decided by the mid-1950s that "any local fraternity that had failed by 1959 to convince its national organization to end racial discrimination would no longer be allowed on campus." Only one fraternity did not meet the deadline, and was subsequently disbanded.

4. Fall semester 1972 — Rutgers beats Princeton in ... Frisbee: While most students are aware of the famous Rutgers victory against Princeton in the first intercollegiate football game, fewer know about the first International Frisbee Association match won by Rutgers against Princeton. The match took place in the same gymnasium parking lot that the first intercollegiate football game was played in 103 years earlier.

5. Student Homophile League: Rutgers' "Student Homophile League" was the second campus organization for gay students in the country, the first being at Columbia University. Established in 1969, the organization had about 50 members. Before the start of the league, gay students couldn't easily meet each other. One way gay students met up was by walking along "the stone fence at the foot of Old Queens along Hamilton Street, where gays were often the target of antigay violence." In addition to publishing newsletters and hosting dances, the SHL brought a controversial art exhibit to what is now the College Avenue Student Center, where one SHL member stood nude on a cross as an exhibit piece titled "Silent Soldier."

6. Douglass Colleges' rules: Douglass College, then known as the New Jersey College for Women, regulated its students lives in very direct ways. For instance, girls were required to make their bed before going to class, sunbathing was not allowed in front of residence halls, there was an 11 p.m. curfew on weeknights and the only males allowed in residence halls were relatives. But in 1968, 46 girls broke curfew in a "declaration of student, human and women's rights" and were brought before the college disciplinary board. In response, the Douglass Government Association created legislation to eliminate the rules. 


Avalon Zoppo

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