Students from the Street: A Look at Dartmouth’s Foundation Years Project

A short-lived 1960s-era program that transported street-smart Chicago Vice Lords to the hallowed halls of the Ivy League school has been largely forgotten—except by those who volunteered for the ride

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Evans, Wiggins, and Dartmouth associate dean Rahmeier circa 1968
Evans, Wiggins, and Dartmouth associate dean Rahmeier circa 1968

Evans and Jordan flew to Lebanon, New Hampshire, the closest airport to Hanover, in September 1967. They were met by members of Dartmouth’s tiny Afro-American Society, including Woody Lee, class of ’68, and Bill McCurine, class of ’69, who were, by their own description, middle-class blacks who had done well in high school. In fact, they were brilliant. Lee, from New Jersey, went on to become a cardiologist at the Yale School of Medicine. McCurine, from Chicago (he grew up in Lake Meadows and went to Francis Parker), was a Rhodes scholar, went to Harvard Law School, and now sits as a federal magistrate judge in San Diego.

Dean Dey had asked the students to pick up the newcomers. No discussion was needed about how they would recognize one another at the small airport. But everyone did double takes when they met. Lee and McCurine were sporting faded blue jeans, beat-up loafers, and big Afros. Evans and Jordan, on the other hand, had been sent to Brooks Brothers before going east. Evans, a good six feet and weighing more than 200 pounds, wore a crisp three-piece suit. Jordan was muscular and looked good in a blue blazer and gray flannels. “They looked like they had just stepped out of GQ,” McCurine recalls.

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Meet the students from the street

Evans and Jordan roomed with Lee that year in Lee’s dorm, the home of the senior honor society Casque and Gauntlet. Members occasionally performed secret medieval rites that bespoke privilege of membership; to Evans and Jordan this was just another strange Ivy League custom. But they went with the flow. To make their room resemble others in the dorm, they lined their shelves with books. They smoked more weed at Dartmouth than they ever did in Chicago. “And their dress quickly adapted to the Dartmouth norm at the time,” Lee recalls.

On the other side, Dartmouth was openly mystified by these new freshmen. Robert Havens, a white student who lived in the dorm, remembers their room as dark and “like a kind of den,” with the sounds of James Brown and a black crooner named Arthur Prysock on the stereo. (“Your dress lies against the cheek and the hollow of your thighs like running water,” went a Prysock lyric. At an all-male school, Havens was impressed.)

Evans was also a jokester. “I saw that as a wonderful coping mechanism,” says Havens, who sometimes didn’t know what to make of it. When he suggested one time to Evans that they go for a swim in the college pool, Evans said no. “Don’t you know, Bob? Negroes don’t float.” Evans’s good humor forged a friendship—which was tested when Evans and Jordan totaled Havens’s car a few months later.

Evans and Jordan made an even deeper impression on Woody Lee, who was a senior but two or three years younger than these special freshmen. Lee remembers stories told late into the night about their exploits as Vice Lords. “It was like they were living in a kingdom where everything came to them, where all the riches, all the glory, and the money came to them.” Lee says that the details were sometimes vague, but that was part of the mystique.

Happily, Evans and Jordan did well enough in their first year for Dartmouth to expand the Foundation Years program. Again, the problem was to identify qualified students, and that was left largely to Evans, Jordan, and Beall (who died in 2006). Five entered the next year, all friends from the streets, and two of them had been Evans and Jordan’s cottage mates some years before at the St. Charles Juvenile Justice Center. (Thus, in one of the curiosities of the program, St. Charles, as the Kane County youth facility is known, served for a short time as a Dartmouth feeder, like St. Paul’s in New Hampshire and Choate in Connecticut.) They had also attended Central YMCA Community College. And they were gang members, mostly Vice Lords.

After Lee had moved on, he returned to campus to visit friends, including Evans. He was walking across the green one morning when Evans pointed to one of the new students. “That’s Crump,” Evans said. Henry Crumpton had not been at Dartmouth long but was already known as one of the toughest underclassmen ever to enter the ivied precincts. Lee remembers that Crumpton was strutting. Crumpton admits that he was “generally belligerent.” In any case, “it felt like the OK Corral or something,” recalls Lee. The day they met, Crumpton opened his jacket and showed Lee his new gun, a .25 Beretta. Lee thought back to one of those late-night talks when Jordan had said, “Woody, we’re gonna make Dartmouth our turf.”

McCurine describes Crumpton as “intimidating—not that he wanted to be, but it was a learned behavior.” They were arguing once, as undergraduates do, over the question of whether any one person could truly help his fellow man. McCurine said one could, and he cited a Nigerian student on campus who was collecting money for Biafran relief. Crumpton said it was bullshit, that the guy was keeping whatever he collected, and the two marched over to the Nigerian’s room. Crumpton demanded $100. The Nigerian said he didn’t have it, that the money had gone to his people. Crumpton looked at him and expressed his belief that the claim was false. The Nigerian opened the drawer that held his stash and gave Crumpton $100. “Don’t tell a soul about this, Henry,” he pleaded.

Dartmouth generally rendered the Vice Lords the respect they were accustomed to on the street. (Crumpton cracked a white student on the basketball court because of his pushy attitude, but that happened only once.) Academic success was a different matter. Mostly, the faculty was supportive. “I get a charge every time I think of those guys,” says John Rassias, a professor of Romance languages who helped them with their lessons at night and with the subtleties of English. Rassias had fun with words, and so did his students. “Accommodate” was a word with racier connotations on the street than it had at Dartmouth. “It was just fun,” says Rassias, “and it was also clear to me that they really had a commitment to making this thing go.”

Less fun was a remedial English course taught by John Lincoln, who was unfriendly but effective. “We called him Master Lincoln,” says Paul “Coop” Cooper Jr., who entered the Foundation Years program in 1969, its third year. The students read books and then wrote essays about them. “Lincoln said the only way to learn to write is to write over and over,” says Cooper, who sometimes got sent back three, four, or five times to rewrite a paper. “Man, I’d come out of that class in tears.” But he learned. Two years later, he was student-teaching in California. Then he spent a semester in France. A few years after that, he got a master’s degree and went on to teach in Chicago Public Schools. He recently retired.

“Nobody thought we were going to make it,” Evans says. “But I wanted that degree.” He sometimes jokes that he learned to write passing term papers by writing the same paper over and over again, just changing the introduction and conclusion. It is an exaggeration, of course, but he did spend eight hours a day in his carrel in the library. What is certain is that Evans tapped into his innate intelligence. “The word ‘educate’ comes from the Latin word ‘to bring out,’ and that’s what they did for me,” he says. “If you can’t learn at Dartmouth, you can’t learn anywhere.”

 

Photograph: Courtesy of Dartmouth College

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3 years ago
Posted by namvet

$150 a week to attend the YMCA Community College, an incredible injustice! The GI Bill for Vietnam veterans was $170 a month in 1972. and we had an acive Veterans Club (not gang affiliated) at Southwest Junior College. Maybe you can do a story about the forgotten blue collar veterans that overcame wounds, PTSD and hostile draft dodging college students attending elite schools like Dartmouth. At least veterans today have a GI Bill thanks to Sen James Webb to attend any school in the country.

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