The Queen Is Dead
On November 7, 1969, three senior women stood at the 50-yard-line of Memorial Stadium awaiting the climax of their two whirlwind weeks as Homecoming queen finalists.
But strife clouded the pageantry. Anti-war demonstrations and stormy race relations were beginning to tear the Lawrence campus. The Black Student Union, dissatisfied with the University’s selection process, elected its own royalty, Lorene Brown, Value, Miss., freshman.
“The political climate on campus was very hot and it weighed heavily on me,” recalls one of the queen candidates, Candice Heavin Benn, (’70).
“Something like the Homecoming queen contest paled in importance to the Vietnam War, but it was a bright spot for me. We were treated royally. We traveled around the state and gave interviews on radio and television shows. It was good outreach for the University.”
Nevertheless, Kansas crowned its final Homecoming queen that day when the tiara went to Janet Merrick, Shawnee Mission senior.
The tradition was dethroned the following fall. “It seems inappropriate in a multicultural environment such as a university,” the committee’s statement read, “to select one or a group of young women to represent that community. The 1970 Homecoming committee deems it more appropriate to recognize those who embody the academic spirit for which this community was established."
A Chicago Sun-Times editorial expressed support: “Kansas is less corny,” the story declared. “The campus queen contests are as far from the purpose of a university as air conditioning is from the worries of the city fathers of Reykjavik, Iceland.” The Topeka Capital-Journal put it most succinctly: “The Queen,” it proclaimed, “is dead.”
The University continued to crown academic royalty during Homecoming, applauding the winner of the Honor for an Outstanding Progressive Educator (HOPE) Award, the only teaching award bestowed exclusively by students.
But the old contest was not forgotten: When James Koevenig, an associate professor of biology and botany, won the HOPE that fall, the students joked that he was the ugliest Homecoming queen ever.
Adapted from Kansas Alumni