History Professor Publishes Article on the Anti-Apartheid Movement at SUNY Brockport

Angela Thompsell’s article “A credible undertaking”: apathy and anti-apartheid activism at SUNY Brockport” was recently published by The Journal of South African and American Studies (March 2023).

Dr. Thompsell will be speaking about this topic at the Diversity Conference on March 29 at 3 pm.


Apathy was the word most often used to describe student responses to apartheid at the State University of New York (SUNY) Brockport in the 1980s. Yet in 1987, SUNY became the third university in the nation to award Nelson Mandela an honorary degree, and they did so at Brockport, in western New York State. Three years later, a student-led initiative successfully created three scholarships for South African students to study at Brockport. Asking how students at SUNY Brockport achieved these remarkable successes expands our understanding of both the history of anti-apartheid activism and the components that make for effective student protests. The scholarship on anti-apartheid student activism has largely focused on larger or elite universities, but as this article shows, the experience at smaller, regional colleges and universities was radically different. By tracing Brockport’s anti-apartheid activism, this article also demonstrates how both low- and high-profile student activism can achieve remarkable results, when they have a sympathetic administration. At a campus that never built a shantytown or even held an anti-apartheid protest until 1989, a handful of committed students made an impact and for a moment, put Brockport at the vanguard of anti-apartheid activism in the United States.

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Morag Martin (mmartin@brockport.edu)

Posted: March 20, 2023