The Imperative Proposals (1969)
Fifteen days after Baraka’s appearance, the Wilson College Afro-American Society (WAAS) presented a list of, what they called, "imperative proposals" to the College's administration, faculty members, and the student body. The WAAS President, Margaret Woods, and the other twenty-three members of the society gave President Paul Swain Havens the 522 word document during an appointment arranged by WAAS with the President on March 16th, 1969. The ten WAAS “imperative proposals” were:
- The improvement of policies concerning the admissions and recruitment of minority students must be made.
- A Black admissions officer must be hired for the 1969-1970 school year.
- The scholarship and financial aid programs and the provision of information concerning the availability of outside resources for all students must be improved.
- More Black faculty must be hired.
- More courses relevant to the history and experience of the Afro-American must be instituted.
- A more structured and better organized tutorial program.
- Psychological counseling by a qualified Black person should be provided.
- Black employees must be hired with no further delays.
- The Upward Bound program be instituted by summer of 1970.
- A space be allocated for the establishment of a library meeting room of the WAAS.
The campus’s response to WAAS's imperative proposals was immediate, but mixed. Initially, President Havens told the Billboard that he was pleased by the "orderly and responsible" nature of the presentation of the proposals. After a meeting with Woods and President Havens, it was decided that two members of WAAS would be assigned to each proposal. Then Dean of the College, Martha Church stated that "Questions were raised for the benefit of both black and white students. We can look now at the curriculum and other responsibilities and recognize situations that need corrections or additions that would benefit all the students at Wilson" (The Billboard, April 18, 1969).
In faculty meeting minutes dated April 1969, Professor R. Anderson spoke out in favor of the proposals, the record stated:
"Declaring that he was troubled by the tenor of the whole discussion, Mr. R. Anderson exclaimed that merely meeting proposals was not enough; what is really needed is a change of policy—a change from a policy of 100 years' standing. On arriving at Wilson a few years back, he had noted our proximity to the Mason Dixon line. Would it not be in the trust spirit of our centennial celebration, he asked, for Wilson to make a public statement that we were going to act to seek redress for this social wrong, America's number one social issue? We need to go out of our way, he argued, to establish some sort of continuing mechanism to work for greater social justice?"
In an open meeting documented by The Morning Herald Tri-State News in April of 1969, students, administrators, and faculty discussed frustrations over delays in action to bring the imperative proposals into effect. President Havens stated that from his “point of view” there was no delay. However, many students and faculty members disagreed, declaring that they felt progress was stalled by administrative "red tape."
By creating a group to discuss issues that exclusively affect their community, WAAS was able to accomplish much more than perhaps the students could individually. By acting as a group, the Wilson’s students of color were able to bolster each other and bring forth important issues. In May of that year, the president of WAAS and the Chairman of the Curriculum Committee met with the Chairman of American Civilization, Economics, English, History, Political Science, Psychology, Religion Studies, and Sociology regarding the creation of a class entitled "the Idea of Race in America" to be offered as an interdepartmental course at Wilson.
On April 28, 1969, students gathered in front of Warfield Hall for a peaceful demonstration. When the club did not receive a reply from the administration by the deadline they had set for 8am that morning, they held a boycott of classes which involved black and white students and around eight members of the faculty.
Overall the students were commended for their peaceful, reasonable approach to trying to implement change. With the exception of the Upward Bound Program, all of these proposals were accepted by the College and implemented within a year. The Upward Bound Program had already been explored and rejected because of cost by the Board in 1968. The legacy of WAAS is not only these administrative changes, but the creation of increased dialogue among students, faculty and President Havens about race and the experiences of African American students at Wilson.
In a speech given at Alumnae College in 1996 and the 25th reunion of her class (1971), Cassandra Hill Courtney stated: