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Past activism remembered, current efforts examined

Madeline Buckley | Thursday, November 19, 2009

Editor’s note: This is the third installment in a four-part series commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Notre Dame 10 and looking at student activism on campus today. The first two parts introduced the Notre Dame 10 and their protest efforts and examined University President Emeritus Fr. Theodore Hesburgh’s 15-minute rule.

John Eckenrode said he was just an ordinary student when he was suspended 40 years ago for participating in the Dow-CIA protest.

But his experience shows how students can take a more active role in social justice issues, he told a crowd at a panel discussion in Geddes Hall Wednesday.

“I was on my way to study for an organic chemistry test,” Eckenrode said of his decision to join the protesters in the Main Building. “But I was troubled by the war and the stark contrast between my Catholic upbringing and what was going on in Vietnam.”

The discussion commemorated the 40th anniversary of the suspension of the Notre Dame 10 — the 10 students punished for protesting on-campus recruitment by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Dow Chemical Co., known for producing napalm, a chemical weapon in the Vietnam War.

Eckenrode spoke along with Mark Mahoney, another of the 10, Carl Estabrook, a member of the Notre Dame faculty in 1969 and Fr. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy, also a faculty member at the time.

“This event was personally difficult for me to bring back to my parents,” Eckenrode said, “but on the other hand, it was an incredible part of my education at Notre Dame.”

The central question Eckenrode said he wanted to explore in coming back to campus for the anniversary was how much has changed in the past 40 years.

He cited the founding of the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies as a sign of progress, but he said he still sees many of the same problems on campus and globally.
“I approach the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with dismay,” he said. “This is a continuing conversation.”

Mahoney said the events of Nov. 18, 1969 are “like yesterday.”

“You don’t have time to postpone acting on your beliefs and values and attitudes,” he said. “You don’t have time to postpone living out your dreams. Time flies.”

That day, Mahoney said the students were protesting the actions of the CIA and Dow Chemical Co., but they were more concerned with the University’s attitude toward the recruiters.

“For the students involved in this, the concern was the failure of the University to respond,” he said. “That was what we found anguishing and that is why when it came to afterward students stuck together and appealed together as a group.”

The consequences of the suspension had a profound effect on Mahoney.

“When we were suspended, notices went to the draft board,” he said.

At the time, students were exempted from the draft, but as a suspended student, Mahoney qualified for the draft until the Admissions Office wrote to the board explaining they were considering Mahoney for re-admission.

Now, Mahoney is a criminal defense lawyer and handles many cases in which the death penalty is sought.

“The challenge to human society is to figure out how to break dependence on scapegoating,” he said. “The significance of the Notre Dame 10 is that we were scapegoats.”

Eckenrode said he still sees students on campus today responding to social injustices.
“I’m sure students here today at Notre Dame feel that some of work they do outside of classroom to work for peace, alleviate poverty or suffering has same meaning for them as it did for us,” he said.

The fourth part of this series looks at student activism at Notre Dame today and runs as a companion piece in today’s issue.