The Legacy of Those That Came Before: The North Hall Installation

There are mountains near UCSB, big tall beautiful ones. They wrap all of us here in their cold shadowy embrace every morning. However there are other shadows hidden here, for those who look for them. Shadows cast through time by the people who changed this campus. They possess something the Ancient Egyptians called a sheut in abundance. The sheut is part of the human soul in Egyptian mythology, the shadow which reflects on a person’s influence in the world.

These shadows are not literal, but a reference to the legacy someone leaves behind. In the year 1968, twelve black students occupied North Hall, in a monumental display of activism for the greater good; the equality of all human beings. It led to the foundation of a very successful Department of Black Studies and the greater diversity of the campus and campus services.

The takeover of North Hall was in reaction to injustice and a ringing demonstration that the students of color on this campus weren’t to be looked down upon or taken for granted. Injustice and inequality would not be met with quiet acceptance, but active rejection and contest. A central reason for the occupation of North Hall was to lobby for the replacement of UCSB’s then athletic director, Jack “Cactus” Curtice, and his racist behaviour.

This event resulted in many changes to the diversity of campus services. Today, UCSB boasts an inclusive and diverse society. This is arguably in part, due to the actions of those twelve. Therefore, the campus itself as it is, is a part of their legacy as student activists.

How does the memorial at North Hall work as the sheut of those students? History has shown us that memorials act as focal points in debates and perception of their subject matter. A very recent example of this is the hotly debated topic of confederate monuments in the recent past, which has spawned both activism and multiple stances on the legal, political and ideological issue. Similarly, the monument to the efforts of those students acts as a focal point, and empowers people of color who continue to face injustice and prejudice in the current day. Some students talk about how the gallery is empowering in this video.

The installation not only documents  the actions, and the consequences of the actions of the students who took part in the occupation, and others besides, but also honors their memories by being a focal point for race-equality related thought and action on the campus today. The shadows they cast are no longer theirs alone. Everyone who contributes toward their mission, or takes on that mission as their own contributes to this collective legacy, and does them great honor in doing so.