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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

Common Read - Book Forward

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A new Forward was created for the Sesquicentennial edition of Out of Chaos.

Out of Chaos: Reflections of a University President and his Contemporaries on Vietnam-era Unrest in Mankato and its Relevance Today is a collection of personal reminiscences that provide a glimpse into what Mankato was like during the 1960s and 1970s. The book was created by Dr. James F. Nickerson, former Mankato State College president, with input from a variety of graduates, faculty, administrators and citizens who were witnesses to these local events. It is by piecing these stories together that the reader gets an understanding of this dynamic time period and how one person can make a difference in the outcome of events.

 Minnesota State University, Mankato will observe its 150th anniversary as an institution of higher learning in 2018. Out of Chaos, represents a significant time in University’s past, and so to coincide with other Sesquicentennial undertakings, it is being reprinted as a Sesquicentennial Edition. Out of Chaos has also been selected as the 2017 Common Read book. As Minnesota State Mankato’s Common Read book for 2017, Out of Chaos will support the commemoration of the Sesquicentennial by allowing campus and community readers to explore the University’s remarkable history through book discussions, thought-provoking programming and other associated educational experiences.

The Sesquicentennial Edition of Out of Chaos is a slightly expanded version of the original book, which was first published in 2006 by the Minnesota State Mankato Foundation. As a way to increase the readability of the original text, the revised edition will include an enhanced Table of Contents and Index along with all of the original text. In addition, all contributors to the book will be identified in their entries by their associated role with the campus or community at the time of the events of 1972. This additional identifying information will help readers put into perspective the observations and remembrances of the various individuals. Furthermore, it will assist readers in comparing and contrasting the different viewpoints and accounts that are expressed throughout the book. The detailed Chronology remains the opening chapter; it is an important part of the document because it provides extensive background material in its outline of how international and national events influenced and drove activities during those years at Mankato State College.

The early 1970s were a time of unrest on college campuses, as opposition to the Vietnam War had grown across the country. Many considered May 8, 1972, to be an important date that further escalated public opposition and outrage against the war. On that day, President Richard Nixon ordered the mining of major North Vietnamese ports without consulting Congress. This event, along with the May 4, 1970, killing of four students by the Ohio National Guard at Kent State University and the two student deaths at Jackson State College on May 15, fueled anti-war protests at colleges around the United States, including in Mankato.

In its documentation of significant events that unsettled Mankato, Out of Chaos reminds us that activism can challenge and disrupt the norms of society, even as it aids personal growth and empowerment. Events within the book can be compared to current day protests connected with the Occupy and Black Lives Matter movements. Whether it was a “Prayer for Peace Rally” that brought 4,000 students and townspeople to the University, campus anti-war demonstrations that lead to sit-ins that shut down classes and created confrontations with local police, or the bombing of the under-construction Blue Earth County Law Enforcement building using sticks of dynamite, drastic times can sometimes lead to drastic measures. Some of the outcomes can inspire positive changes, but also may be unlawful or even turn dangerous.

Numerous people acknowledge that it was President Nickerson’s leadership style during the demonstrations that kept Minnesota State Mankato from escalating into the violence that was disrupting other college campuses. Nickerson was known for being approachable and open to dialogue. He reached out to students and demonstrators as well as community leaders, law enforcement, faculty and staff. There are many stories of Nickerson listening to students, including him sitting throughout the night with student demonstrators occupying Old Main, the University’s administration building.

Out of Chaos provides additional glimpses into the history of Minnesota State Mankato. Here the reader also learns about Dr. Abbas Kessel, for whom the Kessel Institute for the Study of Peace and Change would be named; artist-in-residence Arnoldus Grüter, who was responsible for creating the red steel sculpture titled Waves; and anti-war activist Mitchell Goodman, who was one of five people indicted for conspiracy in organizing the 1968 Pentagon draft card burnings in the Boston Five trials and was hired for the Mankato State College Chair of Ideas faculty position.

All together this book is a snapshot of an exciting time in Mankato, Minnesota. A time where students helped to change the direction of a country. The memories of that time are stamped on the campus and can be evoked by visiting its buildings, landmarks and artwork. Reading Out of Chaos will give one an understanding of the history that is embedded throughout the background and setting that is Minnesota State University, Mankato.

Monika Antonelli
Outreach Librarian
Common Read Committee Chair
February 1, 2017