Student Activists of the 1970s Riots

Our very own Project Archivist Chris Marino curated the exhibit recently on view, Year of Rebellion: The 1970s Isla Vista Riots at our AD&A Museum. The exhibit gives us an inside look into the politically-motivated, student-initiated riots of 1970 at UCSB and in Isla Vista. Through the lens of student photographer Joe Melchione, the angst and frustration of silenced Gauchos finds a channel in his publication in the contemporaneous school newspaper. Pictures of police raids, the burned Bank of America, and student gatherings show a triumphant and empowered student body.  These photos are unique;  Melchione was the only student allowed a press pass at UCSB and the only photographer brave enough to venture into the trenches of the IV riots. Thus, these are some of the only professional pictures that exist of this tumultuous time for students and faculty. Alongside these photos, Marino has included handmade flyers for student protests and El Gaucho articles to show Melchione’s photos in context.

To compliment the exhibit, Marino facilitated a panel discussion with students who were active in the 1970s rebellion. Hosted by Professor Richard Flacks on Wednesday, November 6th, at the Old Little Theatre, the panel included four members of the Gaucho community of 1970. Flacks came to UCSB in 1969 and was given an exciting and warm welcome with the riots in the same academic year. Since then, he has co-authored a book focusing on student culture and student protests. He knew Melchione personally and saw this exhibit and discussion as a time to honor his work and the awareness he brought to student activism at UCSB. Flacks showed a fourteen minute video of the late Melchione before the discussion to allow Joe to describe, in his own words, what he meant his pictures to convey.

Panelist Becca Wilson was the editor of El Gaucho during the 1969-1970 academic year. She also knew Melchione personally and brought touching insight to the inner-workings of the student paper that was trying, under her direction, to cover unprecedented events in the history of the university. She described the challenge of covering the  protests and ideas while balancing a conservative voice as well. To that end she created an editorial section that allowed her to lend ink to right and left student opinions. She thoughtfully looked back on her term and admitted that she didn’t know the importance of what was happening around her and the weight of what was being reported in her paper until years later.

Mick Kronman was a student at the time of the riots and was arrested the night before the burning of the bank. He spent a few months in jail and came to the panel to talk about his experiences. He represented the students who were standing up for what they believed in, and he also represented those who paid the price. His frustration with the police presence and the bureaucracy of the UC system was balanced by panelist Doris Phiney. Phiney, wife of student-targeted police officer George Bregante, was also a UCSB staff member in 1970. She relayed her fears and frustrations for her husband while he was on duty. She described the personal attacks on him and threats to his family. In a heartwarming apology, panelist Wilson took partial responsibility for the public announcement of his name and address in the paper. This reconciliation of the two women showed clearly both sides of the rebellion. Also present was Dr. Yonnie Harris, who came to UCSB in the early 1970s and has worked since then in the community of IV and with the UCSB students on campus as a member of many different community boards. Since 2003 she has served as the Dean of Students. She was able to talk the effect of the riots on students after 1970 and the student body’s relationship to IV since then.

In this nostalgic panel, Melchione’s photos are given life. His pictures are understood through the voices of the people who played important roles in 1970. Audience members included students and professors of the time as well of now. This panel provided a place for the old and the young, the new and the experienced to talk about some of the most pivotal years of Gaucho history.

–          Merisa Vertti, ADC Intern

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