Lake Forest College forever changed by Vietnam War
Updated: August 27, 2012 10:31AM
LAKE FOREST -- The Vietnam War -- whose veterans are being saluted on Lake Forest Day -- tested the government, the Constitution, students, and soldiers. Lake Forest was no less affected -- in fact, three young local men died in the conflict -- but the war also initiated changes at Lake Forest College that resonate to this day.
The college’s students and faculty were not passive spectators; The Lake Forest-Lake Bluff Historical Society timeline identifies major off-campus student actions. In October, 1967, there was a protest march to Market Square. In August, 1968, Lake Forest College students and faculty protested at the Democratic National Convention. There, two students were photographed by the Chicago Tribune trying to overturn, unsuccessfully, a Chicago Police Department Squadrol. Barat and Lake Forest College students joined the nation-wide moratorium protesting the war in October, 1969. Five and a half months later, in April 1970, students organized a sit-in outside the Fort Sheridan gates.
The college responded to all of this by bringing students and faculty more into the governing structure of the school. Lake Forest College President Eugene Hotchkiss receives a share of credit in the recollections of Michael H. Ebner of Lake Forest, professor emeritus of American history at Lake Forest College.
“The main outcome of the Hotchkiss strategy was to devise a campus governance system — an initiative co-chaired by two respected faculty members — that involved trustees, administrators, faculty, and students. This system of governance, with just two modifications over the years, remains in place to this very day,” Ebner recalled. “In effect, what President Hotchkiss set out to do worked to stamp Lake Forest College with its renowned democratic ethos that remains central to its identity in the 21st century.
“In other hands, the administrative response to anti-war campus protests could have yielded a disastrous outcome,” he continued. “Thanks to President Hotchkiss, the college was redefined and, in the long term, strengthened. Many colleges or university presidents — at Columbia University, Stanford University, and Swarthmore College — had to leave office because of the anti-war upheavals. President Hotchkiss remained in office for 23 years, longest of any president of Lake Forest College, in large part because he earned trust on our campus and from the residents of Lake Forest.”
Ebner remembers the city’s reaction to the war.
“As in many things during the 1960s, the perceived outrageousness of the protestors — rhetoric, counterculture grooming and dress — often gained as much attention as the issues which animated the rationale for the anti-war protests,” he said in an e-mail. “It happened across the nation. But, in button-downed Lake Forest, the anti-war protests, in the eyes of some of its residents, appeared as an assault of local sensibilities.”
The three young males who perished were U.S. Marine 1st Lt. Robert Anthony Bates, 24; Marine 2nd Lt. William Allen Rawson, 25; and U. S. Army Pfc. Carl Spaulding Thorne-Thompson, 20.