On May 4, 1970, four students were killed at Kent State University for protesting the Vietnam War, the same war that Bucknell students could no longer remain silent about. That evening, as the nation mourned the lives of these students, representatives from the Association of Bucknell Students (ABS) appeared at the Bucknell faculty meeting to declare a student strike on Bucknell’s campus.
The student strike on Bucknell’s campus was just one of the many strikes planned across the nation in response to the war. The strike was not against the University, but was intended to show renewed opposition and disapproval towards President Nixon’s action of sending troops into Cambodia and the connected incident at Kent State University. The ABS had three key demands in their strike resolution: the immediate removal of U.S. troops from Cambodia, the cessation of bombing in North Vietnam, and the withdrawal of American forces from South East Asia by December, 1970.
The faculty acknowledged the concern of Bucknell students and recognized their slogan, “On strike, open it up, and keep it open!” With a vote of 91 to 54, the amendment supporting the student strike was passed, and a moratorium, or suspension of class activity, was declared for Bucknell students and faculty for the week of May 4-9, 1970. The strike allowed students and faculty to participate in activities directed towards the “current national crisis.” Professors who elected to hold class were allowed to do so, but students who engaged within the rallies were not penalized for not attending.
Approximately one third of the campus partook in the strike. Daily rallies were held, and The Bucknellian and WVBU kept students informed on developments in the protest movement. On Wednesday, May 6th, Bucknell was joined by Lycoming College and Susquehanna University students for a mass rally, where they announced a boycott of carbonated beverages. Bucknell would serve as the national headquarters for this boycott, which was enacted in hopes that the soft drink industry would offer their support for the no-war cause.
Bucknell students also visited homes in Lewisburg and the surrounding communities to talk about the Cambodian situation and the reason for the strike. They passed out flyers and requested signatures for petitions against the Vietnam War. Additionally, around 70 students and some faculty traveled to Washington for a peace demonstration and to meet with legislators about the situation.
Not all members of the Bucknell community agreed with the strike or its activities. The 54 faculty members who voted against the moratorium did so to respect the opinions of individuals who did not agree with the strike. There were also many students who chose to attend class instead of the strike activities. However, Bucknell did not experience any violence on campus during the strike, and the students were said to have been, “respectful of opposing opinions of area citizens.”
The shock of the Kent State shooting and the escalating war inspired Bucknell students to discover their place in this world. The University provided an open, respectful environment for its students to stand for what they believed in. Thirty-seven years later, Bucknell continues to provide its students with the opportunity to find their voice and make it heard.