Rutgers University–Newark recently commemorated the 50th anniversary of its campus dedication with a daylong event featuring a lineup of activities, including a history slideshow, roundtable discussion, performance art, live concert, scavenger hunt, and poetry readings.
The all-day affair celebrated the history of student activism for diversity and social justice that’s been a hallmark of RU-N from the campus’ dedication in October 1968 to the present.
The event kicked off at the Paul Robeson Campus Center’s Essex Room with sculptor Maren Hassinger’s performance-art piece called “Women’s Work,” followed by an hour-long slideshow on the history of RU-N’s modern campus, along with a roundtable discussion on strategies for combining art and activism to advance social justice in Newark today. The latter events played to a packed house of professors and their students, who passionately weighed in on issues of importance to them.
The event continued into the afternoon on Norman Samuels Plaza with a two-and-a-half-hour scavenger hunt touching on RU-N history, along with a concert by singer-songwriter Shilpa Ray, who grew up with immigrant Indian-American parents in New Jersey, moved to New York City in 2002 to pursue music, and has toured and performed with the likes of Patti Smith, Nick Cave and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Capping off the day was an after-party of poetry readings followed by an open-mic session in the Paul Robeson Essex Room.
“It was wonderful to have everyone involved and see them get excited from so many angles,” says Eva Giloi, associate professor of history and Interim Senior Associate Dean of Faculty for the School of Arts and Sciences-Newark, who conceived the event as part of Newark Rhythms, an ambitious three-year research, exhibition and music/visual arts project focused on RU-N’s history and role in the Newark community, which Giloi leads along with a number of other RU-N professors and staff members.
The seeds for Newark Rhythms—and by extension the anniversary commemoration—were planted back in 2016 while Giloi was researching the campus’ midcentury modern architecture and realized there was scant literature on RU-N’s legacy in the community, especially regarding the events leading up to and immediately after the construction of the school’s current campus in the mid-1960s.
As she dug deeper, Giloi discovered the complex history of community displacement of then mostly African-American and Puerto Rican residents that took place to make way for the new campus in the city’s Central Ward, part of that period’s sweeping urban renewal efforts across the country and in Newark, which occurred against the backdrop of the 1967 Newark rebellion, the campus’ dedication in October 1968, and the takeover of RU-N’s Conklin Hall by the Black Organization of Students in 1969.
Newark Rhythms explores how RU-N developed into a place of inclusion, diversity and opportunity by charting its history from that seminal moment of the campus’ construction and dedication through the present. The 50th anniversary commemoration was one of several events planned for Newark Rhythm’s three-year cycle.
During the spring semester, there will be performances in commemoration of the 1969 liberation of Conklin Hall, along with several music events, including a jazz concert by Newark native and MacArthur Genius Tyshawn Sorey.
For the recent 50th anniversary commemoration, Giloi had plenty of production help from various staff and faculty on campus, including Laura Troiano (Price Institute) and Christina Strasburger (History), along with curator Ian Cofre and Professors Mary Rizzo (American Studies) and Mark Krasovic (History). The event was sponsored by the Office of the Chancellors, the School of Arts and Sciences–Newark, the Federated Department of History, the Clement A. Price Institute for Culture, Ethnicity and the Modern Experience, Express Newark, and Newark Rhythms.