Today’s health crisis and human rights movement may differ from anything we’ve seen before, but Mustangs of every generation have faced challenges in their times. Sometimes we’ve stumbled. Sometimes we’ve triumphed. But for more than 100 years, we’ve been engaged.
World War I and the Roaring Twenties
A financial crisis and the collapse in cotton prices hurt Texas and the nation. SMU scales back its plans for dormitories in the fall, build-ing three temporary halls for under $40,000. (In 1926, all three still-standing dorms were destroyed in a fire.)
World War I dampens enrollment at SMU from 1,114 (1916-1917) to 1,012 (1917-1918). More than 250 students join the Student Army Training Corps through SMU, and 473 current or former students enter the armed forces. Of those students, 11 die in service. The depressed economy leads SMU into debt that will last years. President Robert Stewart Hyer borrows money to pay professors, using his personal possessions as collateral. Trustees put up their own collateral for loans to keep SMU afloat.
The influenza epidemic invades SMU at the opening of school in September. In October, University officials implement health precautions, including canceling all chapel and church services. Four members of the SMU community perish during the epidemic.
National economic boom and the rise of the oil industry in Texas put SMU on secure financial footing. Following the war, enrollment grows to 1,341 (1920-1921).
The Great Depression
The depression forces SMU to reduce salaries by 20% in 1932–1933, and then by 50% in April, May and June of 1934. Due to these financial challenges, SMU offers its first need-based scholarships to 60 incoming freshmen in 1934. Through it all, SMU students establish several traditions, including two that endure: the live mascot Peruna in 1932 and Pigskin Revue in 1933.
Student Council of Religious Activities and the Moorland branch of the YMCA for Negroes campaign to improve Dallas’ Black high school, Booker T. Washington. SMU students speak at several churches about “Our Responsibility for Negro Education in Dallas” and call for an end to prejudice.
The New Deal’s positive impact on college attendance causes SMU’s enrollment to explode – from 2,445 (1934-1935) to 3,831 (1937-1938).
World War II
Before President Umphrey Lee takes office, he tells the Dallas Chamber of Commerce, “There can be no future for our civilization except a future of tolerance.” During uncertain times, he urges SMU to “emphasize its college of liberal arts” and freedom of inquiry.
As the U.S. gets closer to entering WWII, SMU engineering school facilities are used to train military aviators and others. In 1942, male student enrollment drops from 2,308 to 1,886. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, SMU moves to a quarter system, enabling students to earn a degree in only three years. By November 1942, 27 faculty members have been called into military or government service. The Navy College Training Program (V-12) begins in July 1943 at SMU. By the end of the war, 450 men have participated and nearly 50 have earned SMU degrees. Female students form the College Organization for General Service to support the war effort and increasingly take leadership roles in student organizations. By the war’s end, 127 students and 137 alumni have lost their lives in the service of their country.
President Lee, anticipating the utilization of the GI Bill’s tuition benefits, establishes the General Co-ordinator of Veterans Education office. The School of Business Administration establishes rehabilitation certificate programs for returning veterans. In fall 1946, 6,780 students (nearly 4,000 of them veterans) enroll – 3,000 more than in any previous semester. Dozens of new faculty members are hired. From 1946 to 1953, many veterans with families live in “Trailerville,” a self-con-tained community including 108 trailer homes.
Dallas and SMU remain strictly segregated. Beginning in 1946, a small number of Black graduate students begin studying in the Perkins School of Theology, though they do not earn any credits. The 1948 Cotton Bowl football game sees SMU face Penn State, which has its first Black players – establishing the first major southern sporting event with Black and white players competing. After the tied (13-13) game, both teams are honored with a joint dinner at the SMU student center. By 1949, a handful of Black students are attending regular theology classes, doing required coursework and taking exams – all unofficially, with grades being forwarded to the students’ chosen institutions. In November 1950, SMU trustees authorize enrolling Black students as regular degree-seeking students. In 1951, Merrimon Cuninggim, dean of the Perkins School, recruits at Black colleges and enrolls five students who become SMU’s first Black graduates in 1955: James Arthur Hawkins, John Wesley Elliott, Negail Rudolph Riley, Allen Cecil Williams and James Vernon Lyles. The students initially eat their meals only in the Perkins cafeteria and room only with one another. In spring 1953, the four unmarried Black students and four white students choose to become sets of roommates, sparking controversy.
Fall sees the departure of 120 male stu-dents for the military at the beginning of the Korean conflict.
The computing revolution enters its second decade, and the Soviet Union launches the satellite Sputnik. Remington Rand installs a UNIVAC 1103 computing system on SMU’s campus – the first of its kind on any college campus in the southern United States. SMU, the Dallas Chamber of Commerce and Texas Instruments form the Graduate Research Center, a nonprofit organization housed on the SMU campus and focused on research in the pure and applied sciences.
Civil Rights Era
Nationally, protestors challenge Jim Crow laws and the violence and discrimination against Black Americans. In January 1961, Perkins theology students and others commandeer a “white only” lunch counter at the nearby University Pharmacy until the Black protestor in their group is served. In September, after years of Dallas ISD resisting Brown v. Board of Education, 18 Black first-graders enter several Dallas public schools. In April 1962, SMU admits its first Black undergraduate student, Paula Elaine Jones, who graduates in 1966 with a B.A. in speech. By 1969, about 60 Black students – 40 undergraduate and 21 graduate – enroll at SMU, including Jerry LeVias, the first Black athlete in the Southwest Conference to win an athletic scholarship. LeVias later says, “I was a good teammate on the weekends. I got a good academic education, but I didn’t really have a social life.” During this time, SMU has only one Black faculty member: anthropology and sociology professor William S. Willis, Jr. Racist practices such as Old South Week continue throughout the era and beyond.
In March 1965, a contingent of SMU students and faculty participate in the “Bloody Sunday” march from Selma, Alabama, to the state capitol in Montgomery to champion voting rights for Black citizens. After police attack the demonstrators, eight SMU theology students travel to join the second Selma march, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. For the third march, 56 students and faculty members join 25,000 other protestors. On March 17, 1966, at the invitation of the Student Association, Dr. King becomes the first major civil rights leader to speak on campus.
In 1967, Black students at SMU create the Black League of Afro-American College Students (BLAACS). In April 1969, BLAACS delivers to President Willis M. Tate a 13-page list of demands; it includes the sentence, “We blacks demand an education which will be useful to us as black people, for black people.” One week later, 34 students negotiate with Tate and other administrators until several agreements are reached, including a goal to enroll 200 Black students and hire five Black faculty members by fall 1969. SMU soon hires its first Black administrator – Irving Baker, assistant to the president and head of the Afro-American studies program – and five additional Black faculty members. Hiring two Black students to help with student enrollment, SMU recruits 50 new Black students – a record number but still far short of its 200-student goal.
Inspired by the civil rights moment, the U.S. women’s liberation movement grows. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 extends nondiscrimination protections to educational institutions. By 1965-1966, anachronistic dress codes for women are eliminated. As part of SMU’s 50th anniversary in 1966, the first Women’s Symposium is held, becoming an annual event. By 1970-1971, SMU relaxes or eliminates curfews at women’s residence halls. In 1970, the national Women’s Equity Action League files sex discrimination complaints against more than 300 institutions, including SMU. At this time, women account for only 16% of the faculty, with more than half only being instructors. In 1972, the 15-member Commission on the Status of Women is formed, and one year later, it delivers recommendations for reaching full compliance by 1976. President James
Across the nation, students protest the U.S. military presence in Vietnam. In April 1967, SMU students form a chapter of a national student antiwar group, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). In May 1972, more than 300 SMU students march to Willis Tate’s office in protest of U.S. President Richard M. Nixon’s extending the Vietnam War by mining the harbor of Haiphong, North Vietnam.
Late 20th Century
In 1971, the approximately 50 Hispanic students on campus form the Chicano Association, which soon becomes Los Chicanos. Like BLAACS two years earlier, the group delivers a list of demands to President Paul Hardin III. In 1974, the University names a full-time advisor to Chicano students and establishes the Chicano Studies Council. In 1976, José Gonzalez, SMU’s first Chicano professor, helps establish the Chicano Studies program.
In 1975, four Black students are added to SMU’s cheerleading squad, joining nine white members and officially integrating the group, which is later named best varsity team at a major college campus in August. In 1976, students vote to eliminate quotas for the cheerleading team, which resulted in the team’s having only one Black cheerleader in 1977. In 1978-1979, 230 students are Black, and in an unprecedented write-in campaign, David Huntley is elected as the first Black student body president.
The gay liberation movement surfaces at SMU with the Perkins School admitting gay and lesbian students for theological studies. In 1975, the Student Senate rejects a student organization for gay students, who in 1980 form the Gay/Lesbian Student Support Organization. In 1983, the Student Senate again denies recognition. In response, 3,500 students sign a petition in opposition, and several alumni and faculty write letters of protest. Students on both sides appear on Phil Donahue’s national television program in December. Active debate continues until 1991, when the Student Senate charters the organization, officially renamed Spectrum in 2006.
The Office of Admission hires staff focused on recruiting and retaining students from ethnic minorities. In 1987, President A. Kenneth Pye joins SMU and emphasizes the importance of attracting Black, Hispanic and Jewish students. The Campus Jewish Network is created. New faculty are hired to direct the Mexican American Studies and African American Studies programs, which are combined into the Ethnic Studies program. From 1987–1991, minority enrollment increases 40%. By 1993–1994, minority students comprise 22% of first-year undergraduates and 16% of the entire student body.