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The Spirit of The Blunt in the New Generation

The Blunt Masthead. Photo Credit to Michael Christensen.

The ‘70s were a time of turmoil: it was Nixon v. Humphrey, it was the Vietnam anti-war movement, it was racial inequalities, it was second-wave feminism, it was the war on drugs, it was Watergate. It was also when editors at The Point, the student-run publication at the newly established location of Point Loma College, began a series of editorial actions that poked the big brown bear, that is, the College President, Shelburne Brown, and also the Dean of Students, James Jackson. Their actions not only upset the administration but also got their paper shut down and ultimately resulted in suspension and expulsion letters being sent to students named in the bylines of the revolutionary, underground paper: The Blunt. 

In the 1975-76 academic year, The Point was initially run by Carol Foster-Breeze, a biology major with a heavy workload who then passed editorial responsibilities to Michael Christensen. Back then, there were two editor-in-chief positions, one having editorial control and the other having formatting control; both Foster-Breeze and Christensen worked with Donna Baxley, who held the design and formatting responsibilities. 

As the current editor-in-chief of The Point, I felt it was important to speak with Christensen and Foster-Breeze about their experiences not only to appreciate how far we have come in student journalism, censorship at PLNU, women’s rights and just the world in general, but to continue the conversation about what it means to speak truth to power, to think outside the box and to poke the bear every once in a while. 

Christensen said that what Foster-Breeze did before him and what he continued to do, was commit to covering news, opinions and features in a way that expressed student views of what was actually happening, which meant they were going to have pieces that did not conform to the Nazarene Church’s position on things. 

“We [felt that] we needed to print news and features and opinions that reflect the student body writers and not be censored. So we took that stand. And after week after week of hot seat questions, point-counterpoint features, editor’s opinion columns taking on dorm rules and mascots and this or that; and with satires like ‘The Art of Seduction’ or the ‘Adventures of Nancy Nazarene and Melvin Manual III’–those kinds of satires got to them [Point Loma College Administration]. And so they said, that’s enough,” Christensen said.. 

According to Christensen, legend has it that staff writers, Steve Thames and Lionel Yetter were smoking a blunt when they decided that they just weren’t finished poking the bear quite yet. After sharing name and concept ideas with Sue Agee and other friends, the idea of an underground paper called the Blunt gained traction. Many of the staff writers of The Point then became contributors and editors of The Blunt.

“We were all in the same squad of what they called dissenters, or student radicals, and [to be a] dissenter was a thing, a controversial issue. ‘Do we have the right to dissent?’ was a big issue on campus,” Christensen said. 

After all, students chose to attend a Christian college rooted in the Nazarene tradition. Students signed a pledge, so the Administration took the position that dissent was not allowed and to assert that right and have a view contrary to the conduct code and doctrines of the school you chose to attend was subject to disciplinary action, according to Christensen. 

“And that’s what drew us together because we said ‘hell no.’  And we had some faculty members who supported us on that,” Christensen said. “The Dean Nelsons of our time were Noel Riley Fitch, professor of literature, who was a feminist, and Michael McKinney, also a literature professor who was a free spirit. They were editorial advisors to The Point and they resigned as editorial advisors when the administration closed The Point.”

After resigning as faculty advisor, McKinney suspected that he might be dismissed from his role as a professor so he prepared for an entirely new career for himself as a public defender. The campus climate was palpable. Between the censorship of the press, the limitations of student activities and strict enforcement of Nazarene standards, which at the time did not allow room for discussion, Point Loma College students did not have a clear grasp of life beyond the campus bubble, according to Christensen and Foster-Breeze.

Foster-Breeze laughed as she recalled how her focus on feminism as an attempt to get more rights and spread the idea that women shouldn’t be locked up, that they should have equal freedoms and that men and women students should not be “so rigorously separated,” got her into trouble. 

“That was the main focus of my interest. And I think over time, that proved to be the wave of the future. But at the time, it was considered horribly threatening. Change always is,” Foster-Breeze said. 

After her undergraduate education, Foster-Breeze went to medical school where there weren’t a lot of women at the time. She recalls being the first woman that had ever been hired in her residency and said that the issue was not so much that Point Loma College was so behind, but that the world was beginning to change in establishing women’s rights. Even in her undergraduate years, she could see the change coming. 

“I was told by major figures that they hated me. I mean, I got a lot of what you would call pushback. But see, I was aware that I was in the real world. And they were living in an alternate fantasy world where the world had never changed,” Foster-Breeze said. “And so it was like ‘Barbie,’ you know. And so to me, it was just absurd that they were so out of touch with what was happening in the society around them. And it was so obvious that they just needed to let this go and move on and realize that women were going to be important, and we all weren’t going to get married while we were there.”

At Point Loma College, Foster-Breeze had a scandalous reputation, she said. She remembers the rumors suggesting that she lived in the men’s dorm. But with a glimmer of satisfaction in her eyes even readable over our Zoom interview, she laughed as she said that she found the entire matter funny and would show up to the men’s dorm just to walk through the halls and frighten everybody. 

“I did run an ad at one point for birth control, which was, you know, very threatening because you weren’t supposed to even know what that was needed for. I mean, anything about it. So yeah, it was that bad,” Foster-Breeze said. “It was so conservative it was funny. And I mean, women didn’t know. The truth is–women were incredibly naive. I mean I would counsel them before their wedding night. That’s how bad it was. They had no idea what was going to happen.”

Many people at the time saw the views and writings of Foster-Breeze, Christensen and the The Blunt staff as threatening. 

“There were very clearly people who thought we were bra-burning radicals that were going to destroy what was there. But again, I felt like [students] had been oppressed, and had not been allowed to even look and understand what the future might hold, and that they needed to wake up a little bit,” Foster-Breeze said. 

In a way, Foster-Breeze’s work at The Point and the joint effort of students writing for and funding The Blunt was an attempt to sound that alarm. 

“The years I was there, it was like being in an alternate universe of beautiful. I loved every aspect of it. It was so nurturing, so cocooning, you were safe from everything. And I love that but there was such obvious flaws in this beautiful world where we were locked up at night. ,” Foster-Breeze said. “It was dissonant because it was happening to the women and not the men. And I knew the outside world was not like this, the outside world was different. And so why were we stuck in this distant past [with rules and expectations] that no longer applied? And you could see the world changing all around us. But everybody at Point Loma seemed determined to stay right where they were in the 1950s.” 

When Foster-Breeze came to college, the only things she had were her record player, some records and $20 that her parents gave her. She got loans, worked 20 hours a week in the biology lab, sometimes worked for a veterinarian on the weekends and also worked as a waitress. College was something Foster-Breeze worked hard for and not a life path her parents were a part of.

In the summer she had nowhere to go, so she moved into her editorial office on campus because there was a couch and refrigerator. She also found a broken toaster oven with no door and a popcorn machine in the trash of one of the dorms. To get food, she worked split shifts as a waitress so that she could eat breakfast and lunch, go home to The Point office and head back to work for the dinner hour. 

The campus security guards used to follow her, as they suspected she lived on campus but were never able to prove it. Wondering what she was doing, they would track her car all around campus, but Foster-Breeze had many hiding places. 

“My car was just big enough that it would fit through the door of the tennis court so when they were really after me, I would just run up to the door, open it up, drive onto the tennis court and sit there while they drove around and around going, ‘Where did she go?’ And I was just sitting there on the tennis court,”  Foster-Breeze said. “But they thought this was really nefarious. This was really something you’ve got to track. And it was hilarious because I was just a normal person, just a little bit more radical than they wanted students to be. That was how crazy it was that they would waste time like that.”

This radical student grew up, became a medical doctor, and spearheaded the funding and founding of The Blunt scholarship. Twenty-five years after graduating , Foster-Breeze sat down with someone from Point Loma Nazarene University Advancement Office and expressed her feelings that, while the school might be doing a good job of approaching Nazarene churches and alumni of Point Loma College, perhaps members of The Blunt group might have something to offer the school again. 

“I just showed them that the people that they feared back in the day, were the movers and shakers, when they left. If you want to figure out who to bet on, you should bet on the people who have passion and drive and are amusing and do crazy things because they will be the ones who have the energy to do that in the real world where it rapidly matters,” Foster-Breeze said.  “And so they were losing the opportunity to engage with their most productive people. See, the conformist who sits quietly studying can still succeed. But I’d bet on the ones with a sense of humor.”

The Advancement Office at PLNU encouraged her to endow a Blunt Scholarship Fund.  Concerned about the future of free-thinking and independent journalism, Foster-Breeze approached members of The Blunt and asked them to join her in investing in the future generation of students who aren’t afraid to poke the bear and speak truth.  Within the clause of their proposed agreement with the University in funding this scholarship, The Blunt members insisted on being the ones to choose who would receive the Blunt Scholarship,  thus guaranteeing that recipients meet their standards of writing on a “radical edge” as described in The Blunt Scholarship Memorandum of Understanding. 

The issues that The Point and The Blunt writers covered included: feminism, abortion, war, protests and boycotts, discrimination, social inequities, and exclusion of the LGBTQIA+ community. Christensen said that the issues we face today at The Point and on PLNU’s campus are just as serious, as we still face challenges to inclusion.   

“So [with] the issues you have now, you can either [have the mindset of] ‘that’s the world out there, it doesn’t have to come to this little campus,’ or you can say, ‘hey, we are part of this greater culture, and the issues are really serious, and we need a free press and independent journalism and a sense of humor.’ We need the spirit of The Blunt now more than ever, or at least as much as we did back then,” Christensen said.