Professors discuss 1968 at multidisciplinary teach-in event

Nicole Ziege

In the dimly-lit auditorium of Jody Richards Hall, about 40 WKU students, faculty and staff watched as videos of bombs dropping and explosions from the Vietnam War flashed onto the screen, accompanied by Eric Burden and the Animals performing “Sky Pilot.”

It was the first “teach-in” presentation for Project 1968, a project that combined presentations and photos about life during 1968 to highlight the importance of that year in American history and compare it to American life in 2018.

During the teach-in, assistant English professor Trini Stickle and associate history professor Jennifer Walton-Hanley debated as two characters with opposing views, Stickle as an older professor in 1968 and Walton-Hanley as a younger “hippie” who opposed the Vietnam War.

Mac McKerral, WKU journalism major coordinator has organized Project 1968. He said “Teach-ins” began in the 1960s and were organized by faculty to allow students to debate and discuss the most important topics of the time.

Using their characters’ conflicting ideologies, the professors discussed important issues during 1968, including the Vietnam War, the women’s movement, civil rights and the assassinations of famous civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., and former U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy. The presentation included music from 1968 and quotes from interviews with people who lived in 1968, with the sound of their voices recreated by the Dictionary of American Regional English.

Stickle said the year 1968 was significant for how it affected every aspect of American life.

“In that year, you have multiple issues converging at the same time,” Stickle said. “You had the devastation from the Vietnam War, the assassinations of important political figures like Martin Luther King [Jr.], a division in politics, all ushering in an uncertain future. Meanwhile, you had musicians rallying together, standing up for what they believed in, and you had a generational gap with young people who were looking to the future.”

Stickle said she can see remnants of the charged climate of 1968 in American society today, particularly with the #MeToo women’s movement, the Black Lives Matter movement and the political divide between Republicans and Democrats.

“This event and this project is meant to reinvigorate this movement to the everyday person, instead of not talking about it,” Stickle said.

Walton-Hanley said she and Stickle created the concept of the teach-in presentation for Project 1968 because they wanted to put the issues of American society into context with the time period.

“As a historian, I believe that hearing people talk from the past is more helpful than listening to someone today talk about the past,” Walton-Hanley said. “It helps you put what they said back then into context with the events that took place. It helps put it all into perspective.”

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