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Cal Poly Memories - by Don Morris, Emeritus
Cal Poly housing director, personnel director, education professor, extended education administrator,
(1950 Cal Poly student and retired in 1992).

PANTY RAID ON CAL POLY CAMPUS -- 1956

National newspapers reported that on May 6, 1956, the first major non-football-related incident to rock the University of California Berkeley campus was a panty raid. The raid caused the university Chancellor Clark Kerr to return from England amid rumored reports (untrue as it turned out) of nude coeds being dragged through the streets. (The watch commander, a lieutenant, was demoted to gatekeeper for not being "appropriately responsive" to prevent the happening). However, 1,073 female undergarments were turned into the Lost and Found.

The raid at the University of California in Berkeley caused several thousand dollars in damaged doors and windows, as hundreds of men forced their way into a row of sorority homes and snatched undergarments from dresser drawers. It also sparked a national fad: male college students everywhere joined in the quest for women's underclothes, arriving in groups, unannounced, at a women's residence hall or sorority house and chanting, "We want panties!"

One newspaper report said that at a Texas University, a group of 1,000 men descended on the women's dorms and "panties streamed into the air like pollen from a flower in full bloom," and that some of the girls had gone up on their sundeck to "greet their worshipers." A single pair of undergarments appeared, quickly followed by "an airdrop of flimsies which rallied the troops."

The men below chanted "More! More! More!" and some would-be Romeos tried to scale the walls of the dorm. Not surprisingly, university administrators throughout the nation took a dim view on this campus activity and Cal Poly President Jullian McPhee and Dean of Students Everett Chandler were very, very concerned about this trend -- especially with new women students just being admitted to Cal Poly. There was talk among old-timers that this new Cal
Poly phenomena of mixing young women with the thousands of men on the campus "was like throwing gasoline on a testosterone fire."

In 1956-57, I was just out of the Navy and the director of Cal Poly student housing. Mr. McPhee, who was the President of Cal Poly in those days, had read the newspaper stories about panty raids at U.C. Berkeley and several other campuses from Ohio to Texas, and he was not amused. Mr. McPhee called me in to his office and told me, "Don, we have recently admitted women students to Cal Poly and that panty raid stuff will not happen on the Cal Poly campus"
I said, "Sir, yes sir, President McPhee."

The housing staff and I did not expect any trouble, but just in case, I had some additional training sessions with the housemothers of the three dorms that housed women on the campus. Not only were the women to be checked into the dorms by 10 p.m. and could not wear short shorts, there were many other restrictions. But, if men students gathered outside the dorms, the housemothers were to lock the front doors and windows, lower the shades, turn on the water sprinklers and keep the women students out of sight. The housemothers were to take pictures of the men who might gather so they could be identified and kicked out of school.

I was out at the SLO Airport at a Navy Reserve meeting one night and the dreaded call came from one of the housemothers about 8 p.m. "Mr. Morris, there may be 500 men students outside our dormitory, calling for the girls to throw down their panties. We have locked all the doors. Come fast." I drove to the campus as fast as possible. It was pitch dark, with a heavy cloud cover as I parked down by the old Crandell Gym. I took off my Navy uniform dress blue coat and started to walk up the hill toward the loud crowd noise in front of the women's Heron Hall dormitory.

I felt confident that all our planning was paying off, but later I learned the housemother said that the cameras were out of film and the girls were in the second- floor rooms with the windows open waving their panties over their heads and throwing them down onto the milling men students. One of the housemothers said, "It was like a bunch of bulls in heat and the girls were in the next pasture with not a sturdy a fence between them."

As I came up the hill it was still absolutely pitch dark, but I could hear the yelling and milling going on in the dark ahead of me. Then one male voice rang out, "Let's go down to Chase Hall. The front door may not be locked and we can get in." This meant to me that the 500 men students were going to come down the hill toward me and if I could not get them stopped, they would just go into Chase or Jesperson halls. (Please note: I had already held several disciplinary hearings on students and helped kick a few out of school. I had a reputation for being tough).

But in the dark, I was concerned that the men students would just flow around me and attack these innocent girls who lived in our dorms and needed protection. The male students in front of the mob were about 10 yards from me but, in the dark, they could not see me-- and then it was like a miracle: the clouds parted and the moon shown down on my bald head, white shirt and black tie. The men students in front saw me for the first time. Those in front tried to stop; there was an accordion effect, as those students in back piled into those who had stopped.

It grew very quiet. I yelled at the top of my voice, "Anyone still in this area in 30 seconds is out of school." And I meant it. I was so mad I would have tried to have them all dismissed.

All I saw were elbows and backs going off into the dark. After about a minute, just three students were still in the area, and they came up to me and said, "Mr. Morris, I told those students not to come to the women's dorms, but they would not listen."

At that time, Cal Poly felt it was responsible for all its students, no matter where they lived on or off campus. It was my job to make sure students did not embarrass the college. It was called "in loco parentis"-- in place of the parent. Times have changed. Today, the law does not allow Cal Poly to act in the place of the parent, and if you confronted a mass of 500 excited and testosterone-driven students in that situation, you probably would get run over. -- Don Morris

 

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