Your University Has History: University of Denver’s Woodstock West

On the first of May 1970, the country was in an uproar. Within a couple days, it seemed chaos had spread across America. President Nixon had announced that the country was to invade Cambodia after fifteen years spent in Vietnam. Bobby Seale, a Black Panther, had been sentenced to four years in prison on account of contempt, causing its own division of upheaval. The major disturbance occurred when civil protests against the war lead to the death of four students at Kent State. Schools across the nation shortly shut down. When University of Denver refused to follow suit, flyers were plastered to almost every wall on campus, announcing a state-wide strike. The students were ready for a fight. This is the short story of DU’s strike in 1970 and the students’ determination to be heard. 

 “PLEASE REPECT THE STRIKE CALLED BY THE STUDENT SENATE TUESDAY”

“WE ASK YOU NOT TO ATTEND CLASSES – WE ASK YOU TO JOIN THE PICKET LINES OUTSIDE THIS BUILDING”

“IN PROTEST: KENT MASSACRE, CAMBODIA INVASION, BOBBY SEALE TRIAL”

“IF YOU CARE, BE THERE!”

May 6, 1970; the first day of the strike.

The flyers had not gone unnoticed for over 100 people picketing with the intention of nonviolence. The spirit was high, and the day was jam-packed with picketing, chanting, and music. Many students brought tents or built shelters. In the air, there was a sense of heaviness but also, spirited comradery. It was an unspoken decision that they’d stay until they shut down the school or were physically removed. 

In the first couple days, the Chancellor scheduled a convocation between the picketing and the chanting. Chancellor Maurice B. Mitchell’s words were scattered–laid out in front of the students like an unfinished puzzle with missing pieces. He told them facts they already knew and suggested appeasements. But there was no promise to shut down the school and the students were left with empty words. 

May 9, 1970; the march on the Capital caused the DU protest to grow heavily.

In the papers, the strike became recognized as Woodstock West. The attendance was reported at almost 800 people crammed on Carnegie Lawn, although, according to DU’s reports and the local paper, the majority of them were no longer students. Was everyone at the rally fighting for the same cause or did they simply needed a place to camp out with the other hundred tents and shelters? 

With more people, came the more aggressive police force. Some shelter was torn down and the crowd was disrupted. For a while on May 10, students thought the strike was over. But the police had decided to leave soon after people were quickly rebuilding what had been torn down. And as the following days passed, it appeared the energy among the crowd had shifted. Everyone had become bored and hopeless without any news that the school would shut down. Some students even returned to classes. As remaining students awaited the National Guard, everyone was on edge or disconnected. They were disappointed with the Chancellor for not shutting down the school. They were angry at the government for not listening to the cries across the nation. And most of all, they were uncertain of what the future had in store – for the Vietnam War, for the civil rights movement, and for the democracy. 

May 13, 1970; the final day of the strike.

The National Guard came and tore down the tents and shelters. They took over Carnegie Lawn and the students knew the protest had run its course. Among them, there was a sense of despair and frustration. But the students undoubtedly had made an impact. For over a week, they had held down Carnegie Lawn, expressed their viewpoints, and rallied for those that died at the Kent State shooting. The students managed to make it out violence-free and catch the attention of the nation. 

October 17, 2019; almost fifty years later.

I sit on one of DU’s many Carnegie Lawn chairs and watch people pass by. There are tables set up for student organizations and blood drives. People hurry along to their next class or lay along the green, soaking in the sun. I assume most people aren’t aware of the protests of the 70’s or have even seen this picture of Woodstock West. Just like I was unaware of the story behind our Bulletproof Campus Art, I’m sure most of the students who walk this campus are unaware, too. 

If only I could tell everyone that walks along Carnegie Lawn, each visitor, every person that ends an event here, what history the grass holds. But until then, I’ll keep this story in my heart. I’ll remember the rallies and the passion behind Woodstock West and feel their strength with me each time I plant my feet on Carnegie Lawn. Because of this, I’ll consider myself lucky to be a student at University of Denver and to know that I attend a school where students have not been afraid to make their voices heard. 

Pro tip: go to your university’s archives and find its incredible history today.