Jacqueline Nunez was a vibrant part of life at Colby College from 1957 until she graduated in 1961. It was an exciting time to be a college student in the United States. The Korean War had ended; a sense of U.S. accomplishment was fresh and honest. The civil rights movement was gaining momentum in the South as well as many college campuses, and a young Senator from Massachusetts named Kennedy was catching the imagination of young people as he began his campaign for the Presidency.
Jackie walked into this time of change and exemplified it. She was the daughter of a superintendent of schools in Freehold, New Jersey. Friends refer to her as a phenomenal person, an incredible scholar, and a privilege to know. In 1966, Grayce Hall Studley, a classmate of Jackie wrote, “while at Colby she was extremely active on Student Government, [The Colby] Echo, and a host of other activities too numerous to list.” On top of her engaging and down-to-earth personality, she inherited her father’s handsome Spanish looks. After Colby, Jackie went on to Harvard to earn her Master of Arts in Teaching.
If Jackie had been able to follow her dream, her greatest accomplishment would have been the young minds she influenced in a classroom. Hodgkin’s disease would cut short the promise of her teaching career and her life just five years after graduation. But Jackie left a lasting legacy at Colby College, more valuable than any endowment or scholastic endeavor, She defined an important piece of the school’s values.
In the spring of 1961, just five years after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Jackie wrote an article for the Echo on the discriminatory policies of fraternities and sororities. She included what became known as the ‘Nunez Proposal,’ suggesting the college take a firm stance against discrimination. Despite the fact that Jackie was an active member of the Chi Omega sorority she stood up and challenged the discriminatory practices of the system. Pam Taylor, a non-sorority pal, doesn’t remember a specific event that might have inspired the proposal. However, conversations with Jackie about discrimination were frequent, and part of a growing sentiment for something different. “There was a lot of hope that things could change–hope that the government would pay attention to the needs of the people.” Jackie was a go-getter. And that meant helping people where help was needed, whether she was tutoring someone in Organic Chemistry or writing proposals to abolish the discriminatory policies of organizations at Colby.
Her proposal, in short, read: “Within two years, by June 1963, each group on campus must present a letter from their national organization to the effect that the local group has complete freedom of selection in regard to membership.”1 Challenging fraternities and sororities was no easy task. According to Pam Taylor, they dominated life at Colby.
Although Jackie graduated shortly after the spring she wrote this significant article, the seed she planted sprouted as discussion and action. The following September, Student Government approved the original proposal with some subtle changes. It was then passed on to the faculty for approval. Former Colby President Robert Strider recalls, “The faculty enthusiastically endorsed it.”
This cartoon was featured in the Colby Echo on November 10, 1961. The next big hurdle for the “Nunez Proposal” was the Board of Trustees. Strider remembers them “dragging their heels a bit.” The first motion adopted by the Board left out Jackie’s provision for a time limit. This act stirred the faculty and student body. An article in the Colby Echo, November 10, 1961, attributed the Board of Trustees exclusion of a time limit to affiliation. “The only possibility which immediately presents itself is that members of the Board, almost all of whom are affiliated with fraternities or sororities, were influenced by those affiliations.”
Finally , in 1962, the Board of Trustees approved a motion including a time limit. The new motion read, “In order to remain active at Colby College, either as a national affiliate or a local group, each fraternity or sorority local undergraduate chapter must, prior to the Commencement meeting in 1965, satisfy the Board that it has the right to select its members without regard to race and religion or national origin.” Even though the original deadline was pushed back two years, Jackie Nunez would survive long enough to see her proposal become reality. No one can say for sure how much it mattered to her, but the minutes from Board of Trustees meetings in the following years speak to a heightened awareness and a commitment to hold organizations accountable for discriminatory policies.
A single act by one committed individual had changed Colby College forever.
1 The Colby Echo. ” Abolition of Clauses Proposed By Nunez.” Page 2. May 19, 1961.