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Uncovering a Legacy: A Reflection on the History of Peace at UD

By Katie Schreyer ‘22

My work for the Vietnam Legacies Project started before I even knew it. Last year I took the class “Intro to the Historian’s Craft” with Dr. David Darrow and wrote my final paper on the history of Dayton’s Peace Studies Institute. Before starting my research, I had not heard of the Peace Studies Institute and knew little about the problems of war and peace that prompted a group of students to create it. 

Getting to do hands-on archival research for the first time was an exciting moment on my path to becoming a historian, especially since I got to learn about the history of my own University. Reading everything from Flyer News articles to underground newspapers, old yearbooks with black and white photos, and textbooks composed with typewriters, I discovered a campus full of students facing moral, political, and academic challenges similar to those confronting me and my classmates today. Worries about student rights, and representation, distrust over government missteps both inside and outside of our borders, a growing awareness of civil rights injustices, and a desire to see the Catholic Marianist ideals of the University upheld in all of its actions connect the student activism of the present to the activism of 50 years ago.

The best part of my experience was getting to meet with two former UD students who helped found the Peace Studies Institute: Wayne and Mary Wlodarski (‘74). The Peace Studies Institute was formed in the 1970s by students who were committed to activism surrounding issues of war and peace. The Institute existed for a little over a decade, was entirely student-run, and sponsored several activities and programs such as a mini-course, a newsletter, speakers, protests, demonstrations, and marches, and the Wlodarskis were founding members of the organization.

Historians researching past events don’t always get the chance to encounter people from the time and place they’re studying; speaking with Wayne and Mary added a unique, first-person perspective to my research. Hearing them talk about their experiences as college students frustrated by the injustices they saw at their school and in their country was also inspiring on a personal level.

As with most long-term projects, by semester’s end, I was ready to turn in my paper on the Peace Studies Institute and move on to new subjects. However, just a few months later I was contacted by Dr. Paul Morrow of Dayton’s Human Rights Center, who asked if I would like to continue my research into the Vietnam War’s impact on campus. 

Soon I was back in the Special Collections Library several times a week, poring over boxes of documents in an attempt to uncover every aspect of the Vietnam era at UD. My return to the archives was cut short by the arrival of the coronavirus and Dayton’s campus shutdown, but this had a surprising benefit: it gave me the chance to shift my main research method to interviews! Several alumni and faculty from the ‘60s and ‘70s had significant experiences to share, and now we had the opportunity to gather their stories virtually. 

One of my most interesting interviews was with a Dayton alum whose name appeared many times in the archives, Gigi Bosch-Gates (‘69). She was heavily involved in protests and other anti-war activities during her time on campus, but faced unique challenges in her activism as a woman. One incident, which made it into the Flyer News, occurred while Ms. Bosch-Gates was staffing a table in Kennedy Union providing information about conscientious objection. A professor approached her table to debate with her about the Vietnam War. The situation escalated to the point where strangers not involved in the original conversation came to heckle her, and a football player yelled that women shouldn’t address questions of war and should instead be at home having babies. This was not the only deeply sexist situation Ms. Bosch-Gates faced; in another news article reporting on her speech at a campus anti-war event, the picture showed her from the waist down only, with a crowd of young men staring at her legs and a caption insinuating that they were only paying attention to her body. As frustrating as it was to hear about the obstacles Ms. Bosch-Gates faced as a female activist, it was inspiring to learn about her courageous advocacy during her time at UD, including being arrested at an anti-draft protest on her 20th birthday.

Each interview I conducted offered a new perspective on the political climate of the ‘60s and ‘70s on campus. Dr. John Weiler, a retired Professor of Economics who arrived at Dayton in 1967, described how he saw students become increasingly politically active as the Vietnam War continued. Al Shatteen (‘69), a football player and the first student of color to be elected to student government, shared his experiences as one of very few Black students involved in on-campus activism.
Al Shatteen (right), Saul Alinsky (center) and Jack Boos (left). Al and Jack are accompanying Alinsky as members of Student Government prior to Alinsky's talk at UD in 1967.

While not on campus during the Vietnam War era, HaQuyen Pham (‘07), told me about her experiences as a child of Vietnamese refugees and a member of Dayton’s Vietnamese community, including struggles with reunification after the war, family members’ experiences in reeducation camps, opening up a restaurant, and how the Vietnamese view of the war is drastically different from the American one.

When I initially joined the Vietnam Legacies Project, the plan was to create a physical exhibit detailing the effects of the Vietnam War at UD, but like many plans made this year, this was rendered impossible by the outbreak of COVID-19. Putting together a virtual version of the exhibit proved an equally enriching experience. Compiling all of the information I learned over months of research and seeing it all come together on one beautiful website has been incredible. Reflecting on my work studying the UD of 50 years ago, I hope that UD students 50 years in the future will engage with this period of time on campus with similar interest.

Katie Schreyer is a rising junior double majoring in Music and History.

Main Photo: Student inspects banner from the Peace Studies Institute. University Yearbook, 1973

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