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Campus Events that Shaped History

Jun 13, 2011

For better or worse, college campuses have been the locations of some major historical events that continue to shape the world. Read on to learn about some of the game-changing events in our nation's history that took place on college campuses.

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By Jessica Lyons

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First Colleges Founded

The foundation for higher education was laid as the first colleges were chartered in the United States. Harvard College was established in 1636 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony following a vote by its Great and General Court. The next higher education institution to come into creation was The College of William & Mary, which was chartered by the king and queen of England in 1693. Now there are thousands of colleges and universities all over the country.

Women Admitted to College

When Oberlin College Institute, located in Ohio, opened its doors in 1833, it was already promoting coeducational learning by enrolling men and women. Oberlin boasts that 'it was the first college to grant bachelor's degrees to women.' In addition, the school 'fused its commitment to coeducation with its support for the education of African Americans.' In 1862, long before the Civil Rights movement, African American Mary Jane Patterson earned her degree from Oberlin. Even before women were given the right to vote, Oberlin was ensuring that they could obtain an education.

Higher Education Institutions Are Desegregated

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Although Oberlin was offering educations to African Americans in the 1800s, others schools didn't begin to do so until a 1954 Supreme Court ruling declared that it was unconstitutional for public schools to be racially segregated. Other lawsuits of the time also tried to get African Americans the same educational opportunities afforded to white students. Attempts to desegregate were met with opposition, even resulting in some riots. Schools eventually began integrating. For instance, Clemson University became the first college or university in South Carolina to desegregate with the 1963 enrollment of Harvey B. Gnatt, who graduated in 1965 and would later become mayor of Charlotte, NC.

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Kent State University Shooting

The country became all too familiar with Kent State University when a demonstration turned deadly on its campus on May 4, 1970. In the days leading up to May 4, many students had been protesting the Vietnam War. As this particular demonstration turned confrontational, 'between 61 and 67 shots were fired in a 13-second period' by National Guardsmen, according to Jerry M. Lewis and Thomas R. Hensley, authors of The May 4 Shootings at Kent State University: The Search for Historical Accuracy. Those few seconds of shots resulted in the deaths of four students - Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer and William Schroeder - and the injury of nine others.

Lewis and Hensley described the event's impact as 'dramatic.' They also said that it 'triggered a nationwide student strike that forced hundreds of colleges and universities to close.' The shooting also brought to light the differing opinions about the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Additionally, the incident led Kent State to focus on 'non-violent conflict resolution' through its Center for Peaceful Change, now named the Center for Applied Conflict Management.

The Virginia Tech 'Massacre'

A more recent campus shooting at Virginia Tech raised questions about security and reporting mental health information, according to CNN. On April 16, 2007, a shooter killed 32 individuals, including students and faculty members. CNN described it as 'the deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history.' In its aftermath, people began to question the security on college campuses that would enable someone to walk around with a gun. Some also questioned policies on reporting information about someone's mental health, since it was felt there may have been warning signs that the shooter might do something violent.

If you want to learn more about the past, be sure to check out these top history blogs.

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