Campus activism at Yale: fragmentary memories and reflections on the 1980s

Karin A. Shapiro, Dan Letwin, Eric Arnesen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


American college campuses during the Reagan years were far from quiescent or complacent. Anti-apartheid activism and efforts to get universities to divest from companies doing business in South Africa dominated campus activism in the mid-1980s. To dramatize racial and economic oppression in South Africa, students built shanties to represent the poverty and exploitation of that county’s black population. They also signed petitions, demonstrated, and formed alliances with local activists. Such was the case at Yale. While anti-apartheid politics dominated the mid-1980s, students also challenged the Reagan administration’s interventionist policies toward Central America and engaged in local causes, particularly the union organizing efforts of Yale’s employees. Anti-apartheid activism thus represented but one organizing effort, albeit a major one, at Yale during the 1980s. Yale never fully divested, but the actions of students, as well as the often hostile response of the administration, ensured that apartheid and divestment were front and center of college life.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)56-68
Number of pages13
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Political Science and International Relations

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