Financial Aid Sit-In

On May 18, 1971, approximately 200 African American students entered the office of President Asa S. Knowles, embarking on a sit-in to demonstrate their frustration with the lack of financial assistance available to African American students. They confronted President Knowles about the difficulty of financing their five years at Northeastern, and they brought to his attention the fact that most of the financial aid offered to African Americans came in the form of loans rather than outright grants. They also expressed frustration with co-op brochures that boasted jobs that could help finance their education when the reality was that it was difficult to get these jobs.

That same day, President Knowles, Gilbert MacDonald (Vice-President of Student Affairs), Kenneth G. Ryder (Vice-President and Dean of University Administration; Northeastern’s president, 1975-1989), Charles Devlin (Director of Finance), Robert Caswell (Director of Financial Aid), and Daniel Roberts (Vice-President of Finance) met with students to address their financial concerns. The students presented President Knowles and the other administrators with proposed financial guidelines for the university’s African American students, stating that they all were to be placed on Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarships and that 80% of their financial needs should be met by grants. Knowles called a meeting with 13 of the 200 demonstrators and the Trustees’ Committee on Student Affairs for May 21.

At the meeting, financial aid guidelines for entering African American students were established. While the university was not able to guarantee full tuition for all African American students for five years, it did agree to increase the number of Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholars from 50 to 200; however, only 50 of the scholars were to be guaranteed tuition, room and board, and other educational costs. The other 150 were given aid based on need and available resources. Further, President Knowles agreed to allow African American students to review the university’s financial outlook every May. Special efforts were also made in the Financial Aid Office to inform students of their financial situation several weeks before the start of each term.