"Give Peace a Chance"

Peace Retreat Information Packet

Information Pack about the Peace Retreat. Sterling urged faculty, staff, and students to read the packet so they could better understand the purpose of the retreat. She hoped faculty would be supportive of students who needed to miss class to attend the retreat. The packet includes the schedule of events.

Faculty Pass Peace Proposal, 1970

The Technician reporting on the faculty's decision to pass the Peace Retreat Proposal, May 14, 1970.

"Last night I had the strangest dream
I ever dreamed before
I dreamed the world had all agreed
To put an end to war
I dreamed I saw a mighty room
The room was filled with men
And the paper they were signing said
They'd never fight again

And when the papers all were signed
And a million copies made
They all joined hands and bowed their heads
And grateful prayers were prayed
And the people in the streets below
Were dancing round and round
And guns and swords and uniforms
Were scattered on the ground

Last night I had the strangest dream
I ever dreamed before
I dreamed the world had all agreed
To put an end to war."- Simon and Garfunkel

It was the end of the semester as exams were mounting when Nixon invaded Cambodia and gunned down peaceful protestors at Kent State University. Sterling and other student leaders on campus realized that students needed an outlet for their anger, distress, and distrust. Students were showing up on the Brickyard upset, looking for a leader. Many of the students that emerged were what Sterling described as “rabble rousers,” who wanted to express their dissent by destruction: tearing down the ROTC Building, breaking windows, vandalizing property, etc. Desperate to do damage. In response to the fervor of the students, campus leaders, led by Sterling, collaborated and discussed what the best course of action should be to relieve the pressure on campus in a healthy, constructive way. At the end of their deliberation, they decided to orchestrate a Peace Retreat on campus.[1]

The Peace Retreat was ideal because it gave everyone a chance to say something and be heard, no matter your position on the war. The retreat, in a way, was like a therapy session where everyone could get together and hash out their problems constructively and respectively, while listening to each other—even if the person speaking had the opposite view. The purpose of the Peace Retreat was to take the resources of the university and study the problem by allowing everyone to speak, on both sides of the spectrum. The campus leaders invited students like the head of the Campus Conservatives to come give a talk, creating an atmosphere of healing and respect.

To accomplish the Peace Retreat, Sterling’s coalition had to get the approval of the administration. They faced harsh opposition. Several faculty members emphasized the importance of the campus as a place for education not a place for social issues. They believed that suspending classes would be a set back. After speeches from influential administrators who disagreed that classes should be cancelled, the students eventually came out victorious. The Faculty Senate voted in favor of the students’ request to allow students to miss class to attend the Peace Retreat. Sterling remembers that meeting as one of the highlights of her presidency, making the front page of the Technician that day with the huge quote from Sterling: “We won! I couldn't believe it!”[2]

In her interview, Sterling highlighted that this was not an easy win, and if the need for a retreat had happened sometime in January when classes were just starting, or October when classes were in full swing, they probably would not have succeeded. For Sterling, part of what made it possible was the end of the year—the fact that it was May and classes were winding down. However, the approval for the Peace Retreat happened for more reasons than timing. Sterling and the coalition tactfully pushed the administration to agree to the retreat, and would not stop voicing their rights as students to respond to social problems that directly affected them: male students could be drafted at any time, peacefully protesting students at Kent State and Jackson State had just been shot down. Students realized that the war was being waged at the expense of their generation, and they needed an outlet to express their dissent and vent their anger. Overall, Cathy Sterling’s facilitation of the Peace Retreat would be her lasting legacy as Student Body President at NC State University.

[1] Cathy Sterling, interview with author, Samantha Smith, November 13, 2014.

[2] Hilton Smith, Technician, “Student Retreat Proposal Passes Faculty Meeting 265 to 233.” Volume LIV, Number 83. May 14, 1970.