From Bombs to Shanties: The U’s Legacy of Activism

IMG_1633 Special Collections Dept. J. Willard Marriott Library University of Utah

Activism has always played a part in campus life at the University of Utah. Students have repeatedly spoken out on local issues as well as matters affecting society on a national or global level. Some student movements have been forgotten, while others have changed the U and the surrounding community.


The school’s constitution was being replaced with a new set of policies. Students, who felt the new constitution was “being pushed too fast, that it bowed to the administration, and that it was almost impossible to amend,” passed around petitions demanding that the U reject the document, according to a report by the Daily Utah Chronicle. Hundreds of students signed. Despite the appeal, the new constitution passed.


Fed up with the intense remodeling on campus, a group of students gathered to protest the destruction of the Union Art Exhibit, as archived by a 1964 yearbook from the U. holding up signs that read, “Why were the paintings removed?” and “Ignorance is behind this action!”


An activist organization called Bookstore Improvement Through Campus Harassment (BITCH) were unhappy with the Campus Store’s low textbook availability and high prices, so they held picketing protests and performed unwanted music in the bookstore in attempt to “bury” it with music. A 1966 yearbook from the U cites BITCH’s demonstrations as the “direct cause for a larger stocking of both textbooks and paperbacks,” and “other revisions including a more efficient book exchange.”


In the late 60s there were large-scale demonstrations against the Vietnam War on campuses across the country. The war started in 1955 and wouldn’t officially end for six more years. Students at the U were no exception. “In October 1969, several thousand students paraded from campus to the Federal Building in downtown Salt Lake City to protest the war.”


On April 30, President Richard Nixon announced that American troops were to invade Cambodia, which meant the US would draft 150,000 more soldiers. Students across the nation protested again in opposition to the war. On May 4, a protest at Kent State University took a violent turn when members of the National Guard shot and killed four students.

Days later, 4,000 students from the U gathered for a demonstration just south of the Union Building in response to the deaths at Kent State. “Classes were disrupted, the Daily Utah Chronicle offices were occupied, and the ROTC building was fire-bombed.” Some students were arrested after being told to leave.
Jerry Rubin, a leader of Students for a Democratic Society, later gave a speech in which he insisted that the hills and tress that currently reside south of the Union were placed there to impede protesters.


Students at the U built a shanty village to protest apartheid and racial segregation in South Africa. On May 30, the Los Angeles Times reported, “Three shanties built on the University of Utah campus to protest the school’s investments in South Africa were torn apart early Thursday, but the students who made the structures pledged to rebuild them.”

Since 1986, there have been many movements led by students on campus. Students have protested a wide range of things, from the removal of a jukebox to the Ute mascot, and more recently, campus rape culture and the agenda of President Donald Trump.