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Smith Libraries Exhibits

The 1980s and the October Occupation

Press conference with Concerned Students of All Colors Association (CSAC) students, 1988.


As Smith College became a more diversified campus with a growing number of women of color, cultural organizations representing these groups increased. In the 1980s the BSA shared space in the Mwagi Cultural Center with Nosotras, ASA, ISO, KSS, SASA, and Ekta. Cramped quarters and the difficulty of scheduling meetings and events by all the groups led the BSA to petition the College administration for space of their own. Jill Ker Conway, president of the College from 1975 to 1985, had sympathy with the BSA, but space needs were tight on campus and efforts to find a new home for the BSA were stale-mated. Also, the BSA led the charge against changing the name from the Mwangi Cultural Center to the Third World Center. The BSA argued that the Center was first and foremost for African American women and that its history should be reflected in its physical environment.

In the spring of 1989, handwritten, racist notes were sent to Black students in Chapin House.This created an atmosphere of fear, hostility and turmoil. Smith students of all races rallied together, protested at College Hall, participated in vigils--refusing to allow racial bigotry to prevail. The work accomplished by members of the Concerned Students of All Colors (CSAC) paved the way for the creation of the Otelia Cromwell Symposium on Racism--Cromwell Day, as it is known today.

College Hall sit-in, October 1990.


By the late 1980s tensions between the BSA and other cultural organizations and the College administration culminated in the October Occupation of College Hall in which the other cultural organizations demanded a space of their own. After a week of negotiation, then President Mary Maples Dunn signed a document that legally bound the College to create individual spaces for all of the organizations, including the BSA. In 1990 UNITY House was created on Bedford Terrace.

The 1980s and the October Occupation