When asked to name a building on campus, one of the first that comes to mind for most GW students is the Marvin Center. It’s where much of the undergraduate population eats, hangs out with friends, attends meetings, spends hundreds of dollars on books and sometimes studies. It’s such a central part of life at GW that it’s hard to imagine the University without it. But until February 1970, the Cloyd Heck Marvin Center did not exist. There was no J Street, no Ticketmaster, no Provisions, no 24-hour computer lab and no Jamba Juice.
In fact, the building didn’t even have a name until a year after it opened. Until then, it was known simply as the University Center. When the center first opened in 1970, The Hatchet ran a series of articles about the facilities available to students, along with diagrams of each floor and the services they housed. In its first year, the center housed a dining room, bookstore, barbershop and music room, along with bowling, billiards and game rooms.
The official opening date of the University Center was Feb. 16, 1970. The opening celebration’s astrological theme was “representing GW’s move into the Age of Aquarius,” according to The Hatchet. The celebration featured appearances by jazz musician Lloyd McNeil, Motion Picture Association of America representative Jack Valenti and a film festival.
Plans for a University Center had been in the works since 1931, but the funding and location were not acquired until 1965. The center cost GW $8.6 million, and a yearly charge of $75 was added to each student’s tuition bill for usage fees. The GW community’s light-hearted appreciation of the new University Center did not last long, however.
On May 4, 1970, the Ohio National Guard was called in to deal with an anti-Vietnam War demonstration at Ohio’s Kent State University. There was confusion among the National Guardsmen, and four students were killed by the resulting gunfire, with several more injured.
Universities across the country were shocked and outraged, and the mood at GW was no different. The GW community joined more than 100 other institutions nationwide in a solemn strike, both in memory of their murdered peers and in support of the cause over which those students were wrongfully killed.
On May 5, 1970, “over 1,000 student strikers solemnly rededicated the University Center at a ‘Kent State Memorial Service’ on the Center ramp,” reported an article in The Hatchet the following day. They unofficially dubbed the building the Kent State Memorial Center.
Students also organized a strike committee to unify their efforts at expressing their anger and sorrow over the Kent State shootings. The committee was open to anyone who wanted to join and revolved around a goal of complete shutdown of GW in protest.
Joe Renfield, a committee member, told The Hatchet, “The University won’t really be closed until either the administration calls off final exams, or the student support is at such a great level that it forces such a shutdown. We hope that the administration will shut down completely as an act of support rather than fear – if they don’t – then we will.”
The week before finals, the strike became something of a crisis for the University. Strikers disrupted professors who attempted to conduct their classes for any student who came, even going to the extent of setting off fire alarms to prevent biology lab finals. Student opinion was mixed. Some went on strike quietly, simply making a personal statement by choosing not to attend class. Others, however, barged into classrooms and demanded that professors stop teaching and that students leave the lecture.
Hatchet reporter B. D. Colen criticized the more violent tactics in a May 6 article titled “No Decision to Make.” Colen stated that he was on strike because there was no other possible course of action he could take given his moral persuasion, but he was disgusted with the tactics of the students who chose to force their opinions and practices on others.
The strike finally ended when it was decided that final exams would be administered as scheduled, and the minor crisis at GW was over, although the feeling of loss over the event at Kent State had not lessened.
The Cloyd Heck Marvin Center was officially named on Feb. 15, 1971. The event was marked by significant protest by many of the former strikers, who felt the unofficial dedication of the center as the Kent State Memorial Center the previous spring should have been made official. Cooler heads prevailed on the Hatchet staff, which ran a brief synopsis of each year Marvin held the University presidency, and several articles dealing with the pros and cons of naming the center after one of GW’s presidents, rather than in memory of students who died at Kent State.
A “Statement of Student Group Opposed to Center’s Renaming” ran in The Hatchet on the day of the Marvin Center’s dedication, but the majority of the GW community supported the name chosen by the administration. And the Cloyd Heck Marvin Center – future home of J Street, the Hippodrome and the Golden Pillar of Knowledge – was so dedicated.