New book covers OSU student life in 1960s

Reprinted from Ohio State University Student Life in the 1960s by William J. Shkurti (The History Press, 2020)
“This groovy couple had clearly embraced the counterculture, but not everyone else was on board–yet.”

(Posted Sept. 3, 2020)

By Rick Palsgrove, Managing Editor

The 1960s were a transformative time, and America’s college campuses were hot spots for cultural change.

In his new book, “Ohio State University: Student Life in the 1960s,” author William Shkurti explores these cultural changes as they unfolded on the campus of The Ohio State University. In the book’s introduction, he writes, “The forces driving this revolution coalesced on college campuses, where sheer numbers ensured oversized implications.”

Shkurti graduated from The Ohio State University in 1968 with a bachelor’s degree in economics and earned a master’s degree there in 1974. I recently interviewed Shkurti about his book.

Why did you decide to write this book?

“I was a student myself at OSU from 1964-68 and never felt this transformational period got the attention it deserved. A lot had been written about places like Berkeley and Harvard, but not very much about places in the country’s heartland like OSU, which also changed dramatically. I wanted to fill the gap. My first book on OSU in the ‘60s, which came out in 2016, dealt with the political changes. This book addresses more of the lifestyle changes.”

How different do you think the culture of student life was from society in general in this era?

“The big rupture occurred in the middle part of the decade. It was mainly about individual freedom to express yourself (‘do your own thing’), with younger people chafing at what seemed to them an overly controlled and repressive society imposed by their elders. The civil rights and anti-war movements contributed to this environment, but it also went beyond that in terms of what you wore, how you behaved, what music you listened to and what movies you saw.”

What information surprised you the most in your research for the book?

“That OSU students were slow to buy into these changes at first. The so-called counterculture started on the two coasts and initially was resisted by many students here in the midwest, but by the end of the decade they were on board. That said, students here and elsewhere were never a monolithic entity. Many of them made their own choices about what they  considered to be acceptable behavior and what wasn’t.”

What are a couple of the most significant differences in the culture of student life as it changed from 1960 to 1970?

“A big one was what was considered acceptable behavior by young women. At the beginning of the decade, they were not regarded as having the maturity to make their own choices even though men were, or what was known as the ‘double standard.’ Treating women and minorities, particularly African-Americans, as second class citizens became much less acceptable by the end of the decade. Use of drugs, especially marijuana, became more acceptable. A big change that still reverberates today is much less willingness to trust authority.”

What role did music play in culture of student life in the 1960s? 

“Big time. It was the tribal glue that bound us together. One factor was the transistor which made music portable. Another was the rise of young singer-songwriters like the Beatles who spoke with a voice that we felt came from within us.”

The book was published by Arcadia Publishing and The History Press. For information visit www.arcadiapublishing.com and www.historypress.net.

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