17th Annual History Symposium


CEO Welcome

To Members of the NCC Community:

Every October since 2004, the Department of Social & Behavioral Sciences has held a History Symposium. Welcome to this year’s event! Despite the pandemic, the tradition will continue, and, in recognition of the 40th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s election as 40th president of the United States, the Symposium’s theme will be “Reflecting on the Reagan Revolution”.

Due to circumstances caused by the pandemic, our Symposium will be a “virtual” event, with PowerPoint presentations displayed at this website about the life, times, and presidency of Ronald Reagan. The College thanks the creators of these PowerPoints: Faculty members Dr. Andres Azuma-Cazorla; Steven Berizzi; Steven Glazer; Dr. Catherine Milton; Dr. Hannah Moeckel-Rieke; and Althea Seaborn; as well as NCC alumna Jennifer Frazer; and Logan Phillips, who took classes at NCC while in high school and recently received a master’s degree from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. These varied presentations will invite searching questions, which is essential to effective teaching and learning.

Historians advise that a distance in time of at least 25 to 30 years is required to have thorough perspective about the past. President Reagan was controversial in the 1980s, and his legacy remains controversial to this day. The challenge of understanding the so-called Reagan Revolution offers wonderful opportunities for critical thinking. Among other questions, the presenters will ask: Did the Reagan years represent “morning in America, as one of his slogans for re-election in 1984 claimed, or was this decade closer to a cautionary tale about unkept promises going back to the founding of the American republic over 200 years earlier?

The History Symposium is an important annual co-curricular event and should, therefore, offer many teachable moments, which creates a strong foundation for student success. This is our goal in everything we do.

Very truly yours,CEO Cheryl DeVonish, J.D.
Cheryl C. DeVonish, J.D.

Chief Executive Officer

Small Town Boy-Reagan's childhood & Teen Years in Dixon, IL

Presentation by: Jennifer Frazer

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A Mostly Conservative Era, 1968-1979

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Brief & Selective Chronology of the Reagan Years, 1980-1989


Ronald Reagan, conservative Republican of California, was elected president, defeating President Jimmy Carter, Democrat of Georgia, in a landslide, 489-49 in the electoral College


On the day President Reagan was inaugurated, the American hostages in Iran were released

After only about two months in office, President Reagan was shot.  He survived the assassination attempt but was hospitalized for 13 days

President Reagan nominated and the Senate confirmed Sandra Day O’Connor of Arizona to bethe first woman justice on the United States Supreme Court.  She served until 2006

President Reagan signed into law on of the largest tax-cut bills in United States history


In his first State of the Union Address, President Reagan proposed that responsibility for major social programs should be transferred to the states.  This was a key initiative of his “New Federalism” that sought to significantly reform the federal system

President Reagan announced his “Fresh Start” initiative in the Middle East and, without approval from Congress, sent 1,800 Marines to Beirut, Lebanon


President Reagan created the Commission on Strategic Forces

In a speech to the National Association of Evangelicals, President Reagan called the Soviet Union the “evil empire”

President Reagan proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative, often called “Star Wars”

In separate incidents, the United States embassy in Beirut and a barracks housing Marines were bombed.  241 Marines were killed, and 58 French soldiers were killed in another attack


Running against Walter Mondale, Democrat of Minnesota, President Reagan was re-elected in a landslide,525-13 in the electoral college


President Reagan met with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev at a summit meeting in Geneva


Following the resignation of Chief Justice Warren Burger, President Reagan promoted Justice William Rehnquist to Chief Justice and nominated Antonin Scalia to be associate justice.  The Senate confirmed both appointments.  Rehnquist served until 2005 and Scalia until 2016

President Reagan addressed the nation on his support for the “Contras” in Nicaragua

President Reagan and Soviet leader Gorbachev met again at a summit conference in Reykjavik, Iceland, but could not agree about significant reductions in nuclear arms

In the mid-term congressional elections, the Democrats took control of the Senate

Shortly after the Iran-Contra scandal broke, President Reagan appointed the Special Review Board to study the events.  It was chaired by former Senator John Tower, Republican of Texas


According to the Tower commission report, President Reagan “appeared to be unaware of key elements of the [Iran-Contra] operation.”  In the view of one commentator, Reagan was held “accountable for a lax managerial style and aloofness from policy detail”

Paul Volcker resigned as Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, President Reagan nominated Alan Greenspan as his successor, and the Senate confirmed.  Greenspan served until 2006

During a speech in Berlin, President Reagan declared: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

President Reagan created a commission on the HIV epidemic.  Critics thought the initiative was long overdue and criticized the credentials of several of the 12 commissioners

President Reagan nominated conservative federal judge Robert Bork to be an associate justice on the Supreme Court.  After the Senate rejected Bork, Reagan nominated Anthony Kennedy, who was confirmed in early 1988 and served until 2018

The stock market crashed, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average losing nearly 23% of its value

President Reagan and Soviet leader Gorbachev signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, and it was approved by the Senate in May 1988


President Reagan hosted the White House Conference on a Drug-Free America.  A few months later, Reagan signed into law the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, a major initiative in the “War on Drugs”,

making this facet of federal law more punitive

President Reagan sent 3,000 U.S. troops to Honduras to defend it from the Sandinistagovernment in Nicaragua

The White House’s long-awaited HIV Action Plan was announced

President Reagan signed into law the Japanese-American Internment Compensation Act

With President Reagan’s vigorous support, Vice President George H.W. Bush, Republican of Texas, was elected president, easily defeating Michael Dukakis, Democrat of Massachusetts, 426-111 in the electoral college


After President Bush’s inauguration, President and Mrs. Reagan returned to California

The Berlin Wall was torn down, and new governments replaced Communist regimes throughout central and eastern Europe, signaling that the Cold War was coming to an end


H.W. Brands, Reagan: The Life (Anchor, reprint edition, paperback, 2016); Lou Cannon, President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime (PublicAffairs, rev. sub. ed., paperback, 2000); Chronology of the Reagan Administration, Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum, https://www.reaganlibrary.gov/ reference/chronology-of-the-reagan-administration; Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty! An American History, Vol. 2 (W.W. Norton & Co., Brief 6th Edition, paperback, 2020); Kevin M. Kruse and Julian E. Zelizer, Fault Lines: A History of the United States since 1974 (W.W. Norton & Co., paperback, 2019); Ronald Reagan, An American Life (1990, Threshold Editions, reprint edition, paperback, 2011); Jacob Weisberg, Ronald Reagan, (Times Books, 2016)

Conservatives in Control, The Reagan Years, 1980-1989

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Brief & Highly Selective Chronology


On July 4, the bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence, huge celebrations were held throughout the United States. New York City drew hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world, and what later became known as AIDS probably was circulating


Republican Ronald Reagan of California was elected president in a landslide


On January 20, President Reagan took office, beginning the “Reagan Revolution”

On June 5, the federal Centers for Disease Control [C.D.C.] published its first report about rare forms of pneumonia among previously healthy young men in Los Angeles. This was later recognized as a symptom on AIDS

President Reagan authorized U.S. support for the Contra insurgents in Nicaragua by giving them “money, arms, and equipment”

1981 – 1983

Richard Schweiker served as President Reagan’s first Secretary of Health and Human Services


After a year of collecting data and research, the C.D.C. named the disease Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, known by the acronym AIDS


In a speech, President Reagan referred to the Soviet Union as an “evil empire” and denounced its escalation of the Cold War. Soon after that, Reagan proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative

Edward Brandt, M.D., Assistant Secretary for Health at Health and Human Services, declared, the AIDS epidemic is “our “number-one priority”

1983 – 1985

Margaret Heckler served as President Reagan’s second Secretary of Health and Human Services


President Reagan was re-elected in another landslide


The Iran-Contra scandal began and was a major distraction for President Reagan for two years

Film star Rock Hudson died of AIDS, attracting nationwide publicity to the epidemic

1985 – 1989

Otis Bowen, M.D., served as President Reagan’s third Secretary of Health and Human Services


President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev met in Reykjavik, Iceland, and discussed the possibility of significant reductions in nuclear arms but could not reach an agreement


President Reagan gave a speech in West Berlin and stated, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall”, referring to the Berlin Wall, then a focal point of Cold War tension


Republican George H.W. Bush of Texas, Reagan’s vice president, was elected president


By the time President Reagan left office, over 80,000 Americans had died from AIDS

PRINCIPAL SOURCE: Randy Shilts, And the Band Played On: Politics, People and THE AIDS Epidemic (1987, St. Martin’s Griffin, revised edition, paperback, 2007)


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By Steven S. Berizzi, Professor, History & Political Science

Prologue: American Government and Public Health

    What happens when two fundamental principles of American government collide?  To understand how President Ronald Reagan and his administration responded to the AIDSepidemic in the 1980s, we must begin with that question.  On one hand, in his first inaugural address, Reagan declared: “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”  He was referring specifically to a serious recession that began in the late 1970s, but this phrase was taken by many to signify Reagan’s commitment to reducing the size of the national government and its involvement in the lives of Americans.  In his own words, Reagan was expressing an idea as old as the American Republic, built on ideas originatedthat originated with revolutionary pamphleteer Thomas Paine and President Thomas Jefferson.  On the other hand, although the American tradition of limited government is an old notion, by definition, it has limits. The Preamble to the Constitution calls for American government to “promote the general welfare”, and that occasionally requires expansive action.  

    Limits on government are especially challenging in the area of public health.  How much should the government do to prevent widespread threats to safety and to protect Americans lives?  The Framers almost certainly did not imagine circumstances in which the federal government would have to respond to a nation-wide public health emergency.  When one occurred, the responsibility to combat it was expected to be left to the states and their local political subdivisions.  How do we know?  Article I, Section 8, grants Congress vast powers but is silent about public health.  And the Tenth Amendment, ratified only three years after the Constitution, succinctly states: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.  As a result, in 1793, when an epidemic of yellow fever ravaged Philadelphia, then the national capital, state and city government were responsible for combatting the menace.  

    In 1953, 160 years later, the first year of Dwight Eisenhower’s presidency, Congress authorized creation of the cabinet-level Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.  In 1979, Congress separated the Department of Education from the current Department of Health and Human Services [“HHS’], which came into existence in 1980.  Conservative Republican Reagan, formerly governor of California, was elected president later that year and took office in January 1981.  

Principal Source

    Before proceeding, I must emphasize that most of the events related and summarized here were chronicled in painstaking detail by San Francisco journalist Randy Shilts in And the Band Played On: Politics, People and the AIDS Epidemic, which was originally published in 1987.  With the perspective provided by nearly 35 years, the Shilts book contains some inaccuracies of fact and debatable interpretations.  To borrow a phrase from something I read a few months ago in a theater review, journalism “is an art of the present, which makes it prone to error”. However, no one did more to report about the early years of the AIDS epidemic than Shilts, who died from AIDS in 1994.  Despite occasional flaws, this book is fascinating and indispensable!

The Reagan Presidency and the AIDS Epidemic

    A few months after President Reagan took office, the federal Centers for Disease Control[“CDC”], an agency within HHS, began receiving reports from Los Angeles and New York City of clusters of medical cases involving rare forms of pneumonia and skin cancer among otherwise healthy young men, most of whom were discovered to be gay.  Treating physicians and local researchers soon realized that the varied symptoms of the disease – which as yet had no name – were caused by a breakdown in the victims’ immune systems.  It was not until the late spring of 1982 that officials at CDC coined the phrase Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, almost always shortened to AIDS.

By then, as the epidemic spread, activists, especially in San Francisco and New York City, demanded action by the federal government.  In May 1983, Edward Brandt, M.D.,Assistant Secretary for Health at Health and Human Services, 1981-1984, declared, AIDS was “the No. 1 priority’” of the United States Public Health Service.  That declaration was auspicious but also suspicious because it left many questions unanswered.  Beginning in January, 1983, Democrats had controlled the House of Representatives, but, at that time, not all Democrats supported large-scale funding for AIDS research, and the Republican-controlled Senate was unsympathetic, either on fiscal or cultural grounds or both.  Throughout the 1980s, there was a series of battles in Congress during the political struggle against AIDS.

    The focus, speed, and effectiveness of the Reagan administration’s response to the AIDSepidemic, which took over 80,000 American lives during the Reagan presidency between 1981 and 1989, has long been contested.  Reagan’s defenders assert the federal government did as much as it could and did more as the dimensions of the crisis became known.  To Reagan’s critics, including Shilts, the administration was slow to perceive the threat and then unwilling to commit sufficient resources needed to combat the epidemic.  Shilts asserted that some Reaganappointees and like-minded people in Congress dismissed AIDS as a disease largely confined to gay communities in New York and California.  In that narrative, Reagan was too easily influenced by his political allies in the Christian Right, who abhorred homosexuality, viewed the AIDS epidemic as a moral issue, not a public health crisis, and opposed vigorous federal efforts, even after thousands had died.  In reply, Reaganites assert that the president was preoccupied with more pressing matters, including reviving the economy, the growing threat of the Soviet Union, and risks to United States interests in Latin America and the Middle East.  Between 1981 and 1989, fraught years of controversy about funding for AIDS research and treatment, it is possible that even the Secretaries of Health and Human Services simply did not understand the dimensions of the growing crisis.  It is equally possible, however, that they sought to prove their loyalty to Reagan’s fiscal austerity agenda in domestic policy by not asking for more resources.  

    The AIDS epidemic had received some coverage in the mainstream media before 1985, the first year of Reagan’s second term, but AIDS became an international story when film star Rock Hudson died from the disease in October of that year.  President Reagan had been acquainted with Hudson in Hollywood, and Reagan’s wife, Nancy, was reported to be a friend.  Hudson’s death was big news for a few days, but, a couple of months earlier, what became known as the Iran-Contra scandal had broken, and that became the nation’s obsession for the next two years.  It is possible that some media decision-makers preferred coverage of troubling events in Washington and elsewhere to reporting about the so-called “gay plague”.  

    It appears that anti-gay Reagan staffer Patrick Buchanan and Senator Jesse Helms had the president’s ear.  However, any assessment of the Reagan administration’s response to the AIDS epidemic must go beyond political hacks and homophobes.  Most of the public was largely indifferent to a disease thought to victimize gay men, a significant turning point was national reporting about Ryan White, an Indiana teenager who contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion.  In 1985, at about the time of Rock Hudson’s final illness, Ryan was prohibited from attending his local high school.  He eventually graduated from another school, but his illness advanced, and he died from AIDS in 1990 at age 19.  In powerful visual ways, Ryan White and Rock Hudson personified AIDS in the middle 1980s.

Concluding Thoughts

    Close to 40 years after Ronald Reagan entered the White House, his legacy still provokes debate.  To McGill University presidential historian Gil Troy, Reagan was the greatest president since Franklin Roosevelt.”  To others, he was clueless at best and an evildoer at worst.  For purposes of this presentation, we must conclude by asking: During eight years in office, most ofwhich coincided with the early years of the AIDS epidemic, could Reagan have done more to address the crisis?  As I suggested above, the answer is complicated.  Reagan might simply have been preoccupied with other urgent issues, leaving the federal government’s response to AIDS to his three Secretaries of Health and Human Services, only one of whom was a physician.  Or Reagan’s administration might have consciously ignored AIDS because its earliest victims were members of a socially and politically disfavored group.  Or, especially, during the last two years of his presidency, Reagan might have had his own health problems that made him incapable of understanding the full extent of the threat of AIDS to public health and safety.  While trying to be charitable, Reagan’s apparent indifference to AIDS appears to me to be the logical outcome of the cultural conservatism of his background and base of political support. his policy preferences, and his vision that was summarized in one short phrase: – “morning in America, used during his 1984 re-election campaign.  These are conclusions of hindsight, but that is what historians make

    In an essay I graded in the spring term, a student wrote, “history never changes.”  That is nonsense!  Because the study of the past changes constantly, it is better to conclude with these profound words of wisdom from the great Dutch scholar Pieter Geyl: History is an “argument without end.”


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Reagan, Women's Rights and Sandra Day O'Connor

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Reagan's Immigration Policy

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Reagan & Criminal Justice Reform

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Reagan's Drug War, Neoliberalism and Latin America

Presentation by: Andres Aluma-Cazorla

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