In the 1960's and 1970's Oklahoma institutions of higher ed swelled with international students seeking out every conceivable engineering, petroleum, and scientific degree possible. Small schools found themselves crowded and larger campuses saw the multi-cultural index shoot higher than ever. Students from Jordan, Iran, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey,Arabia, Iraq, and other locales were sent over, often with school bills paid by oil rich countries, to receive educations to enrich their country's in return.

In the mid to late 1970's, other political groups from those regions began to traverse the nation to stir up the students in ways similar to the dissident activities at Berkley and numerous other east and west coastal colleges. Some were political activists fostering youth to return to their country and participate in revolution. These were a dominant thread as "Anti-Shah" movements arose protesting 'massacres' in Iran and being allegedly spied on by the Iranian SAVAK, secret police, while in this country. Some others enjoying the ferment and agitation developing were part of multi-national 'workers', socialist, or Marxist activity. Still others, well, who knew what the agenda, if any, resided beyond some post-modern, nihilistic existentialism and deconstruction motivation?

In the 'heartland' this was all fairly new, and when one frigid winter the pot had been stirred the result was riots, threats of riots, and numerous arrests and protests in Norman, Oklahoma City, and Tulsa. Various minor incidents had stirred since about 1975, but in February of 1978 two state institutions had major incidents. Oklahoma City Southwestern College had two days of riots, with chairs tossed through windows, and a police officer injured. Oklahoma State University in Stillwater had students protesting, 200 students marched downtown OKC, and minor protests broke out in other locations. OU hosted a special public forum and counter protests added to the general confusion in several places. Students even traveled en masse to Houston to protest there, with several OKC students residing in the jail there for a time.
It was tense time as students in various institutions were drawn into conflict here and at home in Iran. One woman, who worked in a local language school teaching English to students so they could attend colleges, recalled, "For a time there it was very scary. There was one group of Iranians, not all of them, who would cluster in one corner of the common room and hold long, intense conversations. They were sometimes very heated discussions as well. The looks they would throw the other students and staff...well if looks could kill, as the saying goes."
Another individual recalled how she worked with one young woman who was living with her four brothers in OKC. :"That was how they allowed her to go to school. She cooked and kept the apartment for her brothers studying engineering and that allowed her to study to be a teacher. I noted how the closer to the time of the embassy taking, the more intense the brothers became and less western in her dress she became. She came in one day with the full head covering and complained her brothers were listening to some crazy talk from Iran and she had to drop out of school and go back home with them."
It all climaxed with the take over by revolutionary forces of the US Embassy in Iran. In the months prior to the event, there was a noticeable decrease in Iranian students in the state as many flocked home to join the revolution or to support the Shah. Others were shipped out under deportation orders for their roles in various violent or protest activities. Strangely, in the same time period applications for VISAS for student stays in the US and Britain both soared.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I worked at Southwestern College in the English Language Dept. at the time the riot ocurred. There was a "sit-in" at our off-campus facility the day prior to the riot at the college. I firmly believe our students were influenced by outside agitators. It was a constant battle to keep the agitators off campus and out of the student faacilities. We finally had to hire security. However, the day everything came to a head, we couldn't control anything. It happened very fast and was very violent. Fifty-two students and agitaors were arrested as a result of the riot. I personally received fifty-two supenaes to testify in court. In the end all students and agitators were released.

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