Cold War-Era 'Pink Scare' at Smith College Gives Rise to Forum Examining Civil Liberties Under Siege; National Conference to Gauge Effects of 'Homeland Insecurity' on Privacy, the Academy; Jan. 23 - 26

Archive by Erudera News Dec 17, 2002


NORTHAMPTON, Mass., Dec. 17 (AScribe Newswire) — As the U.S. government expands its “information awareness” programs and accelerates preparation for a potential war with Iraq, concerns are mounting among conservatives and liberals alike about dangerous infringements on personal privacy and civil liberties. A major conference at Smith College – “Homeland Insecurity: Civil Liberties, Repression and Citizenship in the 1950s” – will bring together leading scholars and activists from a range of disciplines to examine the implications of Cold War-era repressions for academic and personal freedoms today. “The ability to question the prevailing order and to speak out, without fear of reprisal, is a defining strength both of American higher education and American democracy,” explains Smith President Carol T. Christ. “By looking at the 1950s and the chilling effect of the Cold War, we can gain valuable understanding of the ways in which this country reacts when it feels threatened.”

The conference, which is free and open to the public without registration, will feature some 20 nationally known speakers and panelists in sessions including “Naming Names,” “Opening Closet Doors,” “Popular Culture: Projecting Insecurities,” and “The Cops at the Door: Surveillance, Repression and Resistance.”

John D’Emilio, director of the Gender and Women’s Studies Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a widely published authority on the history of sexuality in the 20th century, will give the keynote address, titled “The Trials of Bayard Rustin.” Rustin, a gay African American, a pacifist and a Communist, organized Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 March on Washington. D’Emilio will look at the ways race, political radicalism and sexuality intersected in Rustin’s life and career, making him the target of governmental surveillance and constraining his role in movements for peace and racial justice in the United States.

Lauren Berlant, professor of English at the University of Chicago and author of “The Queen of America Goes to Washington City: Essays on Sex and Citizenship,” will offer concluding remarks for the conference in a session titled “There’s No Place Like Home(land): Insecurity, Crisis and Ordinariness.”

Sessions begin at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 23, and finish at 6 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 25. Unless otherwise noted, all events will take place in Wright Hall Auditorium. A full list of events and speakers is available at

The idea for the conference, note organizers Daniel Horowitz, professor of American Studies, and Marilyn Schuster, professor of women’s studies, originated in the controversy generated by “The Scarlet Professor: Newton Arvin, A Literary Life Shattered by Scandal.” In his award-winning book, Northampton author Barry Werth recounted the story of a local vice squad’s 1960 raid on the apartment of Smith professor Newton Arvin, during which it confiscated mildly homoerotic material. In the wake of the nationally publicized scandal, Smith persuaded Arvin to retire (he died in 1963) and terminated the employment of two junior, gay professors, Joel Dorius and Ned Spofford.

Although neither Dorius nor Spofford is able to attend the conference, their reflections on the events of 40 years ago will be presented via excerpts from a documentary in progress by Powderhouse Films titled “The Great Pink Scare,” an examination of sexual McCarthyism whose themes continue to resonate today. In addition, Werth will discuss the issues of privacy and free expression raised in his book and the current resurgence of surveillance and targeting in the government’s campaign against “domestic terrorism.” Later in the conference, former students of Dorius and Spofford will gather to discuss the legacies of their former teachers and mentors.

Expanding on the conference sessions, Horowitz and Schuster have organized a number of related events designed both to ground participants in the political and cultural forces of the 1950s and to analyze the provocative power of images and words today.

At 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 26, installation artist Jenny Holzer, widely known for her provocative aphoristic signs and LED displays in public places, will engage in a conversation about public art with poet Henri Cole. Cole, the Grace Hazard Conking Writer in Residence at Smith, is the author of four noted volumes, including “The Look of Things” and “The Visible Man.”

An exhibition associated with the conference, in Neilson Library’s Morgan and Book Arts galleries, will continue through Jan. 31, featuring the papers of Newton Arvin and other materials from the Sophia Smith Collection and the college’s archives.

A free film series, presenting influential films from the 1940s to the 1960s, will continue through Jan. 24. Most will be shown at Northampton’s Academy of Music. Each will be preceded by a brief introduction by a member of the Smith faculty. On Saturday, Jan. 11, Steve Waksman, assistant professor of music, will introduce “Dr. Strangelove” at 2 p.m. and “The Manchurian Candidate” at 4 p.m. On Saturday, Jan. 18, Rick Millington, professor of English, will introduce “Rope” at 2 p.m. and Alexandra Keller, assistant professor of film studies, will introduce “Pillow Talk” at 4 p.m.

Keller will also introduce the final film in the series, “Shane,” which will be shown at 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 24, in Wright Auditorium on the Smith campus.

Smith College is consistently ranked among the nation’s foremost liberal arts colleges. Enrolling 2,800 students from every state and 55 other countries, Smith is the largest undergraduate women’s college in the country.

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