Supporting Students

Often Black students, faculty, and staff worked together to change the U. In some cases, staff and faculty took less visible but equally important roles in supporting students. This section explores Carl Mason’s advocacy and the support from unnamed faculty and staff in the November 18th student protest.

Carl Mason Amplifying Student Voices

Carl Mason, a PhD student, worked full-time as the Black counselor. He helped students navigate racist interactions, find housing, register for classes, and receive financial aid at all times of day.[i]

In July 1971, he wrote a letter to Michael Patton, the Dean of Students, explaining Black students’ needs. The letter reveals that earlier in the year a Black student had talked to the administration about discrimination and Black students’ needs. Some of these included financial aid, housing availability, discrimination, hiring Black faculty, and developing “a Black student’s cirriculum [sic].”

Months later, without “any occasion, incident, or enough administrative changes,” Mason wrote to Patton enraged that “the administration ignores us.”

Mason’s letter reveals a key component to his position as staff that students lacked–direct access to administrators. In his position, Mason reported directly to Patton.[ii] This allowed him to voice concerns and needs to the administration more easily than students could, adding importance to his role as the Black counselor. Mason used this direct connection to amplify student voices, allowing them to remain the center of the narrative.

November 18th Protest

The enduring problems brought 13 Black students into President Emery’s office with a list of demands. The Revolutionary Afro-American Forces (RAAF) came with no appointment and without any violence. They delivered their demands, met with President Emery, and left his office within fifteen minutes.[i]

Throughout this time, the RAAF and supporting faculty did not release their demands. Charles Kelley, the Black students’ spokesperson, indicated they would eventually release the demands.[ii] Likely, the RAAF likely kept the demands private to keep them in conversation with President Emery to enact the changes Black students tried to see for years. This strategy successfully brought President Emery and other administrators to give their “initial response” to the RAAF instead of immediately opening the conversation up to the rest of Black campus community members and “other concerned groups.”[iii] As the next section shows, this negotiating strategy helped form the Institute for the Study of Black Life and Culture at the U.

In the meantime, a public relations person for the U reported that the demands “dealt with creating a Black studies curriculum with Black students acting in key roles to select instructors and courses to be taught. Other demands included total waiver of tuition and fees for students below a certain income leve [sic] (although the level was not specified) and the University taking ‘a definitive position on minority student rights’ applying to minorities both on and off campus.”[iv]  This summary highlighted the demands the university would nearly meet while ignoring several others. 

The RAAF’s final demand: “amnesty for all faculty, administration, and students who have participated in the programs to implement the requested changes” suggests that Black campus community members supported students strategizing these demands. Though it does not specify programs, a Black Orientation Workshop agenda held in September of 1971 fostered discussions over housing, financial aid, and the Minority Center. Only one faculty member attended. However, twelve graduate students attended, many of whom were likely counted on university records as faculty or staff.[i] Similarly, Carl Mason’s letter to Michael Patton includes discussions about financial aid, housing availability, hiring Black faculty, and developing “a Black student’s cirriculum [sic].”[ii] Though these events happened months in advance, they highlight the same concerns as the demands. Black faculty, staff, and students had long cooperated to identify and rectify the most pressing issues they were facing, without enough administrative support. The demands brought these issues directly to the administration in a way that drew attention to these needs.

The students’ demand for faculty and administrator amnesty also underscores the dangers associated with activism for Black people on campus. Even if not directly connected to the 13 demands, reporters assumed Black faculty and staff were involved. An unnamed reporter for the Chronicle questioned Carl Mason about the demands, only for him to report that the RAAF “had asked him to stay uninvolved.”[iii] This association could be dangerous. Throughout the Civil Rights Movement, Black faculty in Mississippi faced threats to their employment if they supported student protests.[iv] Two years before, administrators fired Angela Davis for her association with the Communist Party.[v] Just a year prior, then-President Fletcher tried removing Victor Gordon to appease public opinion regarding his activism prior to his appointment.

[i] Verdo Thomas, “Black Counselor’s Job ‘Not Easy One,’” The Daily Utah Chronicle, January 24, 1972.

[ii] “Black Counselor Shapes Plan to Change People’s Attitudes,” The Daily Utah Chronicle, September 30, 1970.

[iii] “Blacks Present Demands to Pres. Emery,” The Daily Utah Chronicle, November 19, 1971.

[iv] “No Settling of Black’s Demands after ‘Regretable’ Presentation,” The Daily Utah Chronicle, November 22, 1971.

[v] “No Settling of Black’s Demands after ‘Regretable’ Presentation.”

[vi] “No Settling of Black’s Demands after ‘Regretable’ Presentation.”

[vii] Students who held teaching positions were sometimes characterized as faculty and staff, such as Carl Mason, the Black student counselor, and Courtland Robinson.

[viii] Carl J. Mason to Michael Patton, July 21, 1971, Acc 0233, bx 13, University of Utah Archives and Records Management.

[ix] “Blacks Present Demands to Pres. Emery.”

[x] Joy Ann Williamson-Lott, Radicalizing the Ebony Tower: Black Colleges and the Black Freedom Struggle in Mississippi (New York City, NY: Teachers College Press, 2008).

[xi] Eddie Cole, “Limiting Academics’ Freedom to Tell the Truth about Racism Is Not New,” Washington Post, October 2, 2022,

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