Alumna Kathryn Ogletree speaks about Bursar’s Office Takeover experience

Amy Li, Reporter

At a Thursday event, Northwestern alumna Kathryn Ogletree (Weinberg ’71) told students activism is a continuous responsibility and should be practiced both at home and in professional environments.

Ogletree was invited back to campus as part of a Women’s Center event in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of 1968 Bursar’s Office Takeover. She discussed the role of women in student activism for an audience of about 50 at Harris Hall.

Ogletree was one of the student activists at the forefront of the takeover, during which she and more than 100 other students occupied the Bursar’s Office for 38 hours to protest the state of the black student experience at NU. It ended with the “May 4th Agreement,” a negotiated solution that promised increased black student enrollment, financial aid and black history and culture studies.

The takeover took place roughly one month after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Despite the tense situation, Ogletree said during her talk that she always knew what was important to fight for.

“When the black students went into the building, we knew our lives were on the line,” Ogletree said. “But that’s how strongly we felt about what was happening.”

Ogletree said students were also risking their futures with the threat of their scholarships being taken away.

The NU alumna told the audience that small signs of oppression have always intrigued her. Ogletree said she hopes that white teachers will understand that even “a hug can go a long way” for black students because everyday environments may feel hostile and lonely for black students in their class.

S. Tay Glover, a doctoral candidate in African American Studies and graduate assistant at the Women’s Center, told The Daily that she was happy with the event’s turnout. She added that honoring Ogletree was a perfect opportunity to continue celebrations of black women’s history by shining a light on how women’s participation in social justice history is often erased.

“Feminist work is, in part, about correcting those narratives,” Glover said.

Taylor Bolding, president of the freshman executive board of For Members Only, told The Daily that she think it is problematic that the male leaders often overshadow the female leaders when Bursar’s Office Takeover is talked about. The Weinberg freshman said the Takeover is taught in a way that implies student leader James Turner (Weinberg ’68) “basically orchestrated everything.”

Bolding also acknowledged that although progress has been made, the University still has a long way to go. She said as much as much as the University likes to “throw around” words like diversity and inclusion, the words lack meaning unless they are actively practiced.

Glover said it was important for students to hear Ogletree speak because Northwestern is still a challenging landscape for student activists to navigate. She added that conversation around justice work is not always tethered to real changes in students’ experiences.

“Universities can be really sly with the way they suppress student dissent,” Glover said.

Ogletree reminded students that the fight for equality does not stop. After the takeover, Ogletree said she continued to fight for the rights of black children as if they were her own.

Even now, Ogletree said she can always distinguish the black students who attended a majority white school from those who attended a majority black school.

“Their eyes are kind of empty,” Ogletree said. “They think, ‘What part can I do to advance the struggle,’ but they lack the nurture.'”

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the date of the negotiated solution to student demands. The agreement was reached on May 4th. ​The Daily regrets the error.

Email: [email protected]