Mr. Steele was interviewed via e-mail by Anne-Marie Angelo in March, 2000.
A: Describe your involvement in the May Days protests.
S: I was involved in various aspects of the demonstrations. At the outset, I helped lead the takeover of the Naval ROTC building and moderated the discussion that led to the list of demands that were served on the administration. I participated in various collateral demonstrations; housed demonstrations in my room during the police sweep of the campus. Eventually, my room on the Lawn became "Strike Headquaters." I participated in strategy decisions, gave speeches at rallies and generally worked with others in setting direction for the protests.
A: Describe the atmosphere at UVA in the late 1960s.
S: UVA was in transition. When I arrived, men (and there were only men) wore coats and ties to class and all events. When I left, we wore tie dyed T-shirts. The campus was generally more conservative than many large universities but the Vietnam War had pushed many to reconsider their views. The rich cocktail of activism and drugs affected UVA as it did everywhere. So, it was a time of change, driven by the harsh realities of the war which required that everyone face the issues. From that platform, we addressed issues of race and sexism as well and began to change the University into something resembling what you see today.
A: In your opinion, how were the events of May Days similar to/different from protests at other campuses during this time?
S: The protests were driven by highly personal forces that one couldn't avoid. Friends were being drafted; many were being killed. When you examined the government's policies, at a minimum you had to struggle with whether the war was right. And if you decided we were wrong, as many of us did, the moral consequences were inescapable. Moreover, in the larger context, particularly of the Civil Rights movement, most of us felt compelled to act.
I don't think the demonstrations today are quite as personal. While I continue to admire anyone who puts themselves on the line for their beliefs, I think the issues seem more abstract and removed today.
A: How would you describe the relationship among students, faculty, and administration during that week?
S: Students generally didn't trust anyone over 30 so we were fairly estranged. However, on an individual level, there were many close friendships.
A: How do you believe these protests changed the nature of student activism at UVA?
S: I'm not sure they did.