Sussex, back in the day

University of Sussex, 1967.

The University of Sussex opened as a full university in 1961 with only 52 students, quickly gaining a reputation for academic independence and the development of a unique interdisciplinary approach to education (which later administrations would seem impatient to dismantle).

The next year it admitted 400 students and as its population grew steadily, its students picked up a reputation for being part of the good looking, fashionable avant-garde of the day’s youth (a tradition which continues to this day and which I was obviously a part/the dynamic leader of..).

Early politics at Sussex were what you would expect from any ‘progressive leaning’ university: students were broadly supportive of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, they were anti-Apartheid and the campus had been a source of volunteers for the campaigns of a local left-Labour MP. However, though certainly tending towards the political left, not supporting white supremacy and encouraging people to vote Labour hardly constituted radicalism, even in the 1960s.

As with many universities around the UK, 1968 was the year this began to change. Occupations at universities around the country and, of course, the uprising of workers and students in France all left its mark on the Sussex student, marking a change toward a more confrontational politics. February 21st 1968 saw a ‘teach-in’ about the war in Vietnam. An American flag was burnt. In The Daily Telegraph, a flustered Tory MP declared Sussex a “hotbed for communism”1. The university had arrived; it was now a ‘hotbed for communism’; The Telegraph said. Of course, the anti-Vietnam protest was small (around 20 people) and there was no attempt to disrupt the running of the university. But still, The Telegraph said…

However, as a fan of clichés once proclaimed, ‘from small acorns mighty oak trees grow’. The next few years saw political protest at Sussex develop wider in scope in terms of what it criticised and closer to home in terms of where politics happened. The problem for many students became not only 'this government' or 'that war' but the entire economic system which supported them both. And politics ceased to happen solely in government corridors or in Vietnam or South Africa. It happened everywhere and it happened in our everyday lives. It happened at the very university they attended.

  • 1. Daily Telegraph, 23/02/1968