RIT's place in history during the 1960s

Follow RITNEWS on Twitter

RIT Archives

RIT students joined groups from University of Rochester and St. John Fisher College during a protest at F.W. Woolworth in support of civil rights, circa 1963.

Plans for the annual Winter Weekend Snowball, sponsored by Theta Gamma Fraternity, began in 1960. The highlight of the event was the crowning of the new Sweetheart of Theta Gamma. Four RIT women were chosen as Sweetheart candidates with full-page color coverage in Reporter magazine. Later in the spring came an announcement that the ball would only be open to members of the Greek community the following year, which offended many students on campus and resulted in letters and editorials—many sarcastic—criticizing the decision. 

On a different note, a major administrative change took place at RIT that same year pointing to the continuing growth and complexity of the university. The terms “divisions” and “departments”—used since 1885—were now referred to as schools and merged into six colleges: the College of Graphic Arts and Photography, College of Applied Science, College of Business, the College of Fine and Applied Arts, College of General Studies (renamed Liberal Arts in 1968) and Evening Studies. The College of Science formed in 1963.

Elsewhere in the nation, on Feb. 4, four black college students walked into a Woolworth’s in Greensboro, S.C., bought school supplies and sat down at the lunch counter, knowing that segregation would block them from being served. They stayed until closing and left peacefully. Other black students in the South followed suit but were not left alone, with reports of mob attacks and arrests. Groups of northern college students sympathetic to their cause responded with picketing of their own—including a picket of F.W. Woolworth in Rochester by students from RIT, University of Rochester and St. John Fisher College. The students stated that they wished to focus attention on civil rights and the fact that the right to lawful assembly was being threatened in the South. The students’ efforts contributed to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed racial discrimination, including segregation of public spaces. 

One of the most famed elections in U.S. history occurred in 1960—the close race between John F. Kennedy Jr. and Richard Nixon. Until 1971, and the passage of a constitutional amendment lowering the voting age, New York state residents under the age of 21 did not have the right to vote. Despite being disenfranchised, students took great interest in elections, and the 1960 election, in particular, held the attention of the nation’s youth as the Democrat—Kennedy—battled the more conservative Nixon. Many RIT students were involved in inspiring citizens to vote by attended rallies. Reporter magazine provided coverage of the candidates. One letter to the editor even noted that students had a responsibility “to exercise our influence” in the coming election. The youthful Kennedy attracted many voters, but two straw polls conducted on campus indicated a fairly large margin for Nixon. Finally, a large election night party was planned and co-sponsored by Reporter staff and RIT’s Alumni Association. Although the party was well attended, there was little, if any, reaction to the election results reported.