A Lack of Action

Women on the University of Kansas' campus had long been working toward equal standing, but it all came to a head with the growth of the women's rights movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The lack of university funded childcare on campus, women in faculty and upper administrative positions, comprehensive women’s healthcare, were some of many issues women at the University were fighting to fix. However, the immediate issue at hand when a group of women calling themselves the February Sisters seized a building on campus was the lack of an established Affirmative Action program on campus.

Affirmative Action was first established in 1961 by President Kennedy, and by February 1971 it had been extended to include women and affirmative action program (AAP) implementation was a requirement for contractors receiving federal funding (including colleges and universities). At the University of Kansas, the Chancellor’s Office, the Office of Student Affairs, Office of Business Affairs, and Office Minority Affairs began to work immediately on organizing and implementing an AAP at the University. While the work may have started quickly, it did not progress so and was done completely within the male-oriented administration of the University. The Dean of Women’s office was not aware of the planning until August of 1971, and no effort had been made to notify or include the women faculty, staff, or students at the University in the planning. By early February 1972, months behind the timetable required by Federal law, there was still no program on campus and no women involved in the continued planning for that program.

It was this lack of action to implement the program and include the women of the University in something that directly affected them that spurred the formation of the February Sisters, a group of like-minded women on campus who were frustrated with the way the University was handling Affirmative Action. On February 3, a day before the February Sisters would occupy the East Asian Studies building in peaceful protest, a group of faculty women met to express their dissatisfaction with the decision making concerning the program and drafted a strong letter to the Chancellor voicing their concerns. The next day Chancellor Chalmers offered Associate Professor of Classics Elizabeth Banks the position of director of the AAP. Banks had not had previous communication with the Chancellor over this, indeed she had only met him once or twice before, and Banks expressed that she felt the appointment was only a result of the letter sent to Chancellor by women faculty members.

At this point the University was not in compliance with federal law, and the Chancellor has released a statement falsely stating that an AAP existed on campus when only the offer of an appointment to begin the formulation of the committee had been made. Only one woman had been offered an appointment to this committee, and this was only a result of increased pressure on the Chancellor. Chancellor Chalmers had also stated indifference to other issues raised by women, such as a university funded childcare center on campus, and had gone so far as to say that even if the university had the funding a childcare center would not be of high priority. It was this attitude of defeat and indifference that led the February Sisters to decide that the only way to bring attention and action to women’s concerns was through an action of non-violent occupation of a university building.

Organization for the occupation actually began on February third. Somewhere between 30-50 women discussed various tactics, some of them specifically tasked with investigating possible buildings for occupation. Three buildings were explored as possibilties, with concerns such as maintenance costs and funding, number of bathrooms, entrances, exits, and fire escapes all playing a role into which building was chosen. Later in the evening, around 70 women met at the Wesley Center to discuss activities surrounding the occupation and the various roles they could play, as many would not be able to participate in the direct occupation of a campus building. The position paper of the February Sisters and their list of demands were drafted at this meeting.