Protest on the steps of Vilas Hall

First Person


Christopher Lockwood ’68

As our 50th class reunion approaches, it’s quite remarkable to reflect back on the enormous changes which took place during our four years at St. Lawrence. When we arrived for orientation in the fall of 1964, the St. Lawrence in loco parentis philosophy was firmly entrenched with highly restrictive policies (curfews, mandatory study hours, suspension or expulsion for staying in a hotel in St. Lawrence County without a parent, etc.), but these restrictions only applied to female students.

St. Lawrence rigidly maintained a six day a week schedule of classes, ostensibly to keep students on campus over the weekend. The drinking age in New York State was 18, but alcohol was not allowed on campus, although it was permitted in off-campus fraternity houses (but not in off-campus sorority houses).

Fast forward to our senior year: All of the restrictions on female students and the disparity in policies applying to male and female students had been lifted. Saturday classes had been almost entirely eliminated. The on-campus UC (University Center) had started serving beer and the first co-ed residence hall had been started. 

But far more was happening: The ripples of anti-establishment protests stirred unrest on campus in the wake of the escalation of the war in Vietnam and the civil rights struggles across the country. 

I had a somewhat unique personal experience of these dynamics. I had started dating Cindy Vilas ’68 in November of our senior year. Her grandfather Homer Vilas was chairman of the St. Lawrence University Board of Trustees and had spearheaded fundraising as a major donor for the construction of a new administrative building which was named in his honor in 1966. Cindy was a good sport as she fielded questions about her last name—“Are you the building?”—and her association with the University’s administration in the wake of challenges to “The Establishment.” My father was also a member of the University Board of Trustees and was a fraternity brother of then St. Lawrence President Foster Brown. 

So, this is how I found myself in the spring of our senior year: I was president of the men’s honorary society, which included a number of government majors and political activists, and there was a mounting interest in protesting—something, whatever it might be.

The opportunity to protest presented itself when two events coincided. First, word circulated that the administration had decided not to fill a vacancy for a faculty member on sabbatical. Second, the University was spending money on landscaping with funds from a restricted donation. The leaders of the men’s honorary decided to organize a protest which would be held in front of Vilas Hall to voice our objections to the administration’s spending priorities.

I received a call from the Dean of Students the night before the protest, informing me that he was holding me personally responsible if there was any unrest or disruption. I don’t think I got much sleep that night. This was two weeks before I was scheduled to graduate, preparing a demonstration in front of Vilas Hall while dating the granddaughter of administration building’s namesake, and I would be criticizing the actions of President Brown, my father’s fraternity brother. 

Fortunately, the demonstration was orderly – the members of the honorary had posters reading “Dollars for Scholars” and “Teachers not Trees.” In the wake of the protest, the administration agreed to hire a replacement for the faculty member leaving on sabbatical.

This was a fairly tame precursor to the protests which would follow—more geared to anti-war sentiments and questioning the University’s policies regarding the ROTC program. Clearly the elimination of the in loco parentis philosophy and the disparate male-female policies were a harbinger of the women’s liberation movement. All in all, it was a very transformative time to have been an undergraduate at St. Lawrence.

Christopher Lockwood’s reflection comes in the wake of the loss of his beloved wife, Cynthia Vilas Lockwood ’68, who is remembered in the In Memory section on page 78 in the Spring 2018 edition of the magazine.

Christopher Lockwood and his late wife Cynthia Vilas Lockwood on a fishing trip