What it is Ain’t exactly clear

A.J Morey, graduate of ’73, attended Grinnell in an era of activism and recently decided to bring back the dynamism of these days and collectively document the history of activism in Grinnell. She has teamed up with David Hechler, class of ’72, to install an exhibit in Burling entitled, “Activism at Grinnell,” which reflects on the turbulent days in the late Sixties and early Seventies. The exhibit was under construction all week and opened yesterday, March 8, 2012.

Alumni A.J Morey ’73 and David Hechler ’72 put the finishing touches on the Activism at Grinnell exhibit in Burling Basement this week. Photograph by Tessa Cheek

Morey and Hechler worked in conjunction with Lesley Wright, Director of the Faulconer Gallery.

“We are so thankful that Wright made this space available for us and accepted our proposal,” Morey said.

Morey went on to detail her inspiration for the exhibit. “I realize that my time at Grinnell was pivotal and formative in creating the person that I am today,” Morey said. “For example, I was interrogated by the FBI during my first year at Grinnell, and I realized, that is not a typical experience that a first-year goes through.”

Grinnell in the Sixties and Seventies had a spirit of discontent and unrest that can be likened to the present-day Occupy movement. There were two underground newspapers operating in Grinnell: “Pterodactyl” and the “High and Mighty,” both of which are featured in the exhibit.
The exhibit is geared both towards current students, faculty and staff, as well as the many alumni who will visit Grinnell for reunion this summer. It was through alumni connections that Hechler became involved in Morey’s project.

“I actually never knew A.J. in college,” Hechler said, “but I became part of the implementing team for the project when I replied to an email she sent out to fellow reunion planners.”

This initial agreement to lend a helping hand ended up with Hechler jumping on board with Morey’s dream. “Her enthusiasm was contagious, and I became infected,” he said. “I thought about what I could bring to the project, and the idea came to me, ‘What if we wrote about our Grinnell experiences and what they were each individually like?’”

Hechler then decided to reach out to other alumni, asking them if they considered themselves an activist during their years at Grinnell College and if they are still activists today. Excerpts from these essays appear along with photos, posters and newspaper clippings in the Activism at Grinnell exhibit.

Hechler tried to answer his own question, but was not quite sure of the proper response. “Was I an activist? I don’t know if I was really. I wrote for an underground newspaper, but I don’t know if I really qualified as an activist.”

The exhibit focuses on four large themes, encompassing a range of activists: the anti-war movement, women’s liberation, civil rights and Black Power, and student empowerment. One photo details the campus green full of white crosses to protest the Marine recruiters on campus, while another section discusses the sexual revolution.

The exhibit is not intended to glorify the activism period, but to provide an accurate representation of how different people were affected differently by the activism in Grinnell.

“We have to get a whole range of experiences,” Hechler said.

An excerpt from the reflection submitted by Kathy McLaughlin Drinkard ’73 reflects this effort.

“With [the sexual revolution] came the assertion that women should feel free to have sex whenever they wanted,” Drinkard said. “With it came the notion that you were prudish if you weren’t willing to go along. I remember what emotional harm was being done to both sexes in this atmosphere.”

The exhibit, complete with photos of students considering the visage of Richard Nixon, or protesting Playboy, will be up until the end of the semester, located in the basement of the Burling Library.

Later in the semester, Victoria Brown’s history class will be adding to the display with their artistic representations of activism.
The exhibit is also venturing into film. Jeremiah Halladin, with Edited Visions, will be creating a documentary of the project in which Morey and Hechler will explain the exhibit. Halladin will return on June 2nd, during the 40 year reunion for the classes ’71-’73, to film alumni walking through the exhibit and responding to the images and text.

This documentary will then be held in the library archives as well as posted online for others to view and on webpages such as the Loggia and Grinnell Wiki, firmly embedding this reflection in Grinnell College’s broader history.