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Washington University Archives


In the United States, over 60 percent of all four-year postsecondary institutions enrolling 2,500 or more students have their own police departments.1 Yet, the phenomenon of colleges employing private police forces began relatively recently: about 50 years ago. Why? An emerging culture of protest on college campuses.

This climate of activism, which emerged in the 1960s and 1970s, traces back to the civil rights movement, specifically its triggering of an increase in Black student enrollment at primarily white institutions. Accepted into colleges they had historically been excluded from, these students presented a threat to colleges' existing social order and forced them to reckon with their imbued racism. As Black student enrollment increased, Black students began to fight for school desegregation that was pluralist as opposed to colorblind.2 In the later 1960s into the 1970s, these students “saw themselves as unmasking U.S. intuitions- including liberal ones like universities- and exposing whiteness disguised as universalism.”3 Washington University was no exception.

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