Beloit College Magazine

Beloit College Magazine

Summer 2012 (July 12, 2012)

An Activist, on the Other Side


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July 12, 2012
By Lynn Vollbrecht'06

Michael Young’69Michael Young’69 is well aware of the somewhat ironic nature of his career.

As he handles the concerns and protests of students at the University of California-Santa Barbara, where he is vice-chancellor of student affairs, he can empathize in a very literal way. More than 40 years ago, he was on the other side of student protests as president of the Afro-American Union at Beloit College.

In the spring of 1969, Young and dozens of other students took over the Admissions Office and issued a 12-point list—the “Black Demands”—that asked college administration and President Miller Upton to increase the enrollment of black students, hire more black faculty members, and add more course offerings in African and Afro-American history and culture. Within days, the administration acquiesced; a few months later, Young was class speaker at the 1969 Commencement ceremony.

“I remember being very impressed by Mike’s ability to be a leader of student sit-ins while retaining the support of Beloit’s administration, led by President Miller Upton,” recalls Bob Hodge, professor emeritus of history. “This was a difficult balancing act that had the potential to alienate his fellow students, faculty, and administration.”

But it didn’t.

“Mike was such an exceptional leader that he was able to walk the fine line between his academics, his sports interests, and his personal civil rights beliefs and actions, and succeed in all three,” Hodge says.

Young and Upton eventually became friends, with the late president good-naturedly ribbing him for his role-reversal of sorts. “When I was at Wesleyan [University], in my dean’s job there, and then at Santa Barbara, he would laugh when I told him that I was the recipient of demands and protests, and that students were yelling at me,” he says with a smile.

Though Young had pushed hard against the college as a student, the fight did not leave him embittered. In fact, it was quite the opposite. He has stepped up to support Beloit many times in the last 43 years. “I am grateful for the path that Beloit helped set me on—that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to be a part of pushing the college to change, to make it better. Just as we as individuals can be better, so can institutions,” Young says. “And so with this place I love—I want it to be better.”

After graduate school at the University of Michigan, Young headed back to Beloit College in the early ’70s to direct a local youth outreach program before earning a Ph.D. at the University of Iowa. He eventually went on to serve for several years on Beloit’s board of trustees. When he most recently gave the Commencement address to the graduating class of 2012, he talked about how many of the issues he rallied around as a student are “the same, but different,” viewed through a 21st-century perspective.

Delivering the Commencement address at Beloit was an honor he says would have made his mother proud. “My mom was on a mission of sorts,” he says. “She wanted me to attend a place like Beloit, because of her sense of the quality and character of the institution.”

A native of Chicago’s South Side, Young came to Beloit aware of the civil rights movement but not directly involved in it. That was just one of the many ways his life would change at the college, most dramatically by his Beloit Plan-era field term in Mississippi.

“It clarified and crystalized my thinking and my sense of self and really helped to provide understanding to the kinds of things that were going on in the world,” Young says. During the term, he tutored children and adults and drove kids to school in a converted bread truck. It became one of the defining periods of his life, and he remains grateful to the college for facilitating that experience.

“Places like Beloit are just extraordinary entities that help prepare, train, nurture, and support; they challenge young people, and, in my case, they threw us into these situations, such as my field term, and provided us with these experiences that you could not pay for, that you could not replicate,” he says.

That experience has stuck with him throughout his own career in higher education (he’s been at UC-Santa Barbara for more than 20 years now), as he champions issues of diversity, freedom of speech, and mental health. And, of course, as he provides leadership in his current role, which he admits will probably always involve pushback from students. But that’s all right with Young. To him, that’s a sign of a college or university doing its job.

“I think that an institution should be ashamed of itself if it creates students who don’t periodically take a bite at it,” he says. “If we’re producing students who are complacent and happy and see no problems, who are accepting of authority, doing whatever those in authority say to do, then we’ve not done our job.

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