The Protests > Women's Involvement in the Strike
Over 100 women from Barnard College, the School of General Studies, and the Graduate Faculties participated in the 1968 Columbia protests. A small number of Barnard women had been members of Columbia’s chapter of SDS since its inception. African American Barnard students formed the Barnard Organization of Soul Sisters (BOSS) in 1968; maintaining close connections with the Society of Afro-American Students, BOSS members endorsed the tenets of the Black Power movement, and were among the students occupying Hamilton Hall in April 1968. Barnard women were further galvanized in March of 1968, when student Linda LeClair faced expulsion because the administration discovered that she lived with her boyfriend, a Columbia College student, in an off-campus apartment, and had mislead the Honor Board.
Barnard women occupying Hamilton, Low, Avery, Fayerweather, and Mathematics often found themselves assigned to administrative or menial work by strike leaders. Many female participants recall male strike leaders encouraging women to embrace their own sexual liberation while simultaneously treating them as social and political subordinates. There were no women on the Strike Executive Committee, and only seven women among the seventy members of the Strike Coordinating Committee. In the chaos and intensity of the April 1968 campus occupation, women strikers did not have a forum to address the underlying sexism laid bare by the campus protests.
After the April 30 bust, during which police arrested 111 Barnard students, the women involved took several opportunities to reflect on their experiences as female strikers, as seen in Nancy Biberman’s article in the May 13th edition of At Issue. Frustration with chauvinistic and inflexible male colleagues served as a consciousness-raising experience for many striking women. Women radicals, disheartened with the systematic sexism they saw in the New Left leadership, used experiences like the Columbia 1968 protests to lay the groundwork for the far-reaching women’s rights movement that would emerge in the 1970s.