Bob Dylan called it in his song, and events in the year of the song’s release, 1964, back up his poetic description. The Civil Rights Movement in the United States was at its height. President Lyndon Johnson declared a “war on poverty” and signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law, abolishing racial segregation in the United States. The idealism and passion of the burgeoning youth movement was causing students to question traditional mores and political views, and was gaining traction on college campuses. In 1964, a thousand white college students traveled to Mississippi to take part in Freedom Summer and join black activists in registering beleaguered voters.
At RIT’s downtown “concrete” campus, change was also in the air. RIT needed more space and students looked enthusiastically toward a new suburban campus in Henrietta. During the year, grading started on the Henrietta site, and work began on the foundation and footings for the first three buildings. RIT administrators voted to change the school colors from blue and gray to burnt umber, orange and white, chosen to tie in with the live tiger mascot, Spirit, who died just prior to the final approval of the new colors.
Noting a distressing lack of school spirit, RIT cheerleaders launched “Operation Spirit” to develop “enthusiasm, pride, tradition and unification of faculty and students.” The pep band and cheerleaders, sporting new uniforms in the new school colors, led a group of enthusiastically screaming students on a march through campus, ending at a bonfire. The following day the rally continued at a soccer game when the team entered the field through an enormous tiger head while the crowd sang a new RIT fight song. The event was topped off with the release of several hundred balloons and the ringing of a new RIT victory bell.
While some students were engaging in popular causes, others focused on schoolwork, graduation and finding jobs. In July, riots occurred in Rochester, including in the Third Ward where RIT’s campus was located. The fall brought discussion of the riots, including a program titled “Taking Stock of the Riots—What Did We Learn?” A letter to the editor of Reporter complained that barely any students attended, other than members of the sponsoring organization and people from outside RIT. Student Martin Morrissey wrote: “In a school of higher education, do our studies end at the classroom door? Do we hire more Pinkerton guards, until the new campus move, and shut the door on understanding? Do we run our machines and leave human problems to the liberal arts colleges?”
An exhibit looking back at RIT in 1964 titled The Times They [Were] A Changin’ will be on display in the RIT Museum through September.