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Alumni Annette Atkins and Russ Stanton speak on their time at SMSU

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On Nov. 1, the SMSU History Club sponsored SMSU’s 50th Anniversary event featuring alumni Annette Atkins and Russ Stanton. Both graduated in the early 1970’s, and were both involved in student advocacy. They shared their experiences on campus and the history of SMSU.

Atkins is originally from Sioux Falls, SD and she graduated from SMSU in 1972. She talked about her experiences going from a catholic high school to the new liberal arts college in Marshall, MN. She found herself much more involved in social issues on campus, including movements against the Vietnam War.

Stanton is originally from Faribault, MN, and graduated from college in 1974. Russ was student body president at SMSU, and got involved with the city council while he was a student. Near the end of his college years, he ran for state senator as the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL) candidate and won. He served three consecutive terms in office.

Stanton recalled a funny memory of when he was chosen as the DFL candidate. He was living in an apartment on 5th Street when a local DFL organizer knocked on the door. The organizer asked for Russ Stanton, expecting to meet the new candidate for senator. Stanton, wearing a pair of jean shorts and a t-shirt and sporting a thick mustache with long hair, responded by saying “I’m Russ Stanton.” The organizer looked at him again, then threw his arms up said “Oh Jesus Christ!” The organizer gave Stanton a few flyers, and they never saw each other again.

Both Atkins and Stanton were involved in student’s rights issues on campus, such as the push for co-ed dorms. They held a sleep-in in Aquarius where both men and women brought sleeping bags to prove a point to the administration. When word got out that members of the state college board would be having a meeting on campus, Russ and a fellow student told President Bellows they would crash the meeting if he didn’t agree to meet with them one-on-one. It wasn’t long before the President met with them, and soon co-ed dorms were created on campus.

They also discussed the difficult race relations on campus. This was around the time when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, along with Malcom X and Fred Hampton. Black students were often discriminated by locals. Atkins recalls how her roommate would go to a restaurant, and when the cashier would give her change back, they would slide it on the table rather than hand it to them.

One moment that was very controversial happened during a basketball game in PE. During the national anthem, black players took a knee in response the racial discrimination in Marshall and in the rest of the country. This memory is very particularly relevant considering current events.

Atkins and Stanton agreed that the U.S.’s current political climate is similar to when they were students here at SMSU. They mentioned that times like this are when there’s opportunity to get involved and make a difference, and they believe that SMSU will continue to have success in the future.

“People from other states who want to be successful come here,” Stanton said. “People from Minnesota who want to be successful stay here.”

SMSU has had its struggles, particularly with enrollment and funding. Stanton, who worked tirelessly as a senator to help the school stay in business, and continued to serve the faculty as a lobbyist for the IFO, is optimistic about the school. The school has always had those issues, but survival is built into this school’s DNA.

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Your University, Your News, Your Life
Alumni Annette Atkins and Russ Stanton speak on their time at SMSU