The Last Homecoming Queen

A longstanding tradition comes to an end as social changes reshape the campus and the country.

Homecoming 1970 took place on a glorious fall afternoon with mild temperatures, light breezes, and high spirits. On October 31, in Wallace Wade Stadium, the Blue Devil football team was ahead 16-10 at the half, and head coach Tom Harp seemed well positioned to lead his 5-2 Blue Devils to a victory over Georgia Tech.
As both teams left the field, the traditional halftime revelry began. After a rousing performance by the marching band that included renditions of “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” and “Devil With a Blue Dress On,” the Homecoming Queen ceremonies commenced. A caravan of six convertibles entered the stadium and slowly circled the track. Each car contained two of the twelve female student finalists for the title of Homecoming Queen. The women had been nominated by their dorm mates based on intelligence, personality, and appearance. In adherence to official rules, all candidates were seniors living on East Campus—then the Woman’s College, where all undergraduate female students had lived since the college’s founding in 1930.

Everyone's a winner: Stauffer, above, with date Dan Reinhardt; Terrell, bottom, celebrates the announcement. Duke University Archives

Bringing up the rear of the motorcade was a yellow 1963 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia convertible, driven by Mark Kunkel ’71. Perched atop the car’s backseat was a bespectacled John Terrell ’71, M.A.T. ’73, wearing a cardboard Burger King crown, navy blazer, white button-down shirt, Popart flowered tie, jeans, and hiking boots. He looked a little scruffy since he hadn’t shaved in a few days, but a boutonniere was decorously attached to his right lapel. “I remember being nervous as we entered the stadium,” recalls Terrell, the first and only man ever nominated for Homecoming Queen at Duke. “I was afraid I might get booed.”

Terrell was the official candidate from SHARE (Student House for Academic and Residential Experimentation), a brand-new coeducational living group housed in Wilson House on East Campus. By North Carolina law, men and women could not share a public bathroom. Wilson House had been built as faculty apartments and was the only living space with separate restroom facilities for its members. But as Terrell’s candidacy for Homecoming Queen illustrated, the presence of men on the formerly all-women’s campus was a signal of change—and of changes to come.

The seven cars came to a stop, and their passengers disembarked. The candidates walked to midfield, where their escorts awaited. Tom Fine ’71, the student announcer for the band’s halftime show, gave the results.

“The 1970 Homecoming Queen is …Christy Stauffer, from Atlanta, Georgia!” Stauffer let out a cry of surprise, as her date, Dan Reinhardt ’71, beamed with pride. Stauffer was crowned with a rhinestone tiara and handed a bouquet of red roses.

Fine’s voice boomed again over the loudspeakers: “And the winner for the most overall votes: John Terrell from Oak Ridge, Tennessee!” The crowd roared, and Terrell lost the apprehension he’d carried into the stadium. Without missing a beat, he raised both hands in a peace sign and waved them back and forth. Both moments—Stauffer’s delight and Terrell’s salute—are captured for posterity in the 1971 Chanticleer.

After halftime, Duke’s fortunes changed. Georgia Tech fought back to defeat the Blue Devils 24-16, and the season turned out to be Harp’s last as gridiron coach. And though no one in the stadium could have known it at the time, they had borne witness to the crowning of Duke’s last Homecoming Queen. Terrell’s nomination had started as a goof, a way to poke fun at a time honored tradition. But it became something bigger than that—a challenge to the status quo, a rallying point for a small but growing group of women’s rights advocates, a much-needed tonic to the daily news of war and unrest that occupied the nation’s consciousness.

Stauffer (now Christy Stauffer Sturgeon), Terrell, and the other members of the Class of 1971 were at Duke during a period of rapid and, at times, tumultuous change. They were freshmen when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, and many had participated in the now-famous campus reaction to that event: the Silent Vigil, four days and nights of peaceful protest by nearly 2,000 students and faculty members to honor King and call for greater support for Duke’s black employees.

What's the buzz? program fro Homecoming game pitting Devils against Yellow Jackets. Duke University Archives

During the class’ sophomore year, in February 1969, students took over the Allen Building, renaming it the Malcolm X Liberation School and issuing a series of “nonnegotiable” demands. With threats of escalating violence, state police were called in to quell the disturbance; they used tear gas to force students out of the building. In the spring of the class’ junior year, U.S. troops invaded Cambodia. At a protest rally on May 4 at Kent State University in Ohio, National Guardsmen killed four unarmed students, and, ten days later, law-enforcement officials opened fire on a dormitory at Jackson State College in Mississippi, killing two.

Yet in many ways, Duke and its students still reflected a measure of Southern gentility. The institution maintained codes of conduct that eroded more slowly than at many other schools. Chris Carroll ’72, an inaugural member of SHARE, says she distinctly remembers as a first-year student being advised by a senior woman that she should “never wear pants to West Campus. Never. There was that really formal, Southern thing going on.” Until Carroll’s junior year, women had curfews and were required to sign in and out of the residence halls. If an undergraduate woman became engaged, she was expected to notify her dorm’s resident adviser and make plans to move off campus. If an undergraduate woman became pregnant, she was required to withdraw from school immediately.

Dan Reinhardt, Christy Sturgeon’s Homecoming date, says he remembers that his freshman year, all the men wore coats and ties to football games. “The nursing students housed together in Hanes were known as the Hanes House Honeys,” says Reinhardt, now a lawyer living in Atlanta. “There were some complaints about the Homecoming Queen contest being sexist, but I don’t think that was an overwhelming issue at the time. By the time I was in law school at Georgetown, Watergate was unfolding, and cynicism and skepticism and the debunking of old traditions were in full bloom. But they weren’t yet in full bloom at Duke when I was there.”

Yet the seeds for feminism and women’s rights had taken root. In her 1969-70 annual report, Mary Grace Wilson, the longtime dean of students for the Woman’s College, observed that “the campus organization for Women’s Liberation made occasional headlines with announcements, panel discussions, and a symposium in which Betty Friedan, the author of The Feminine Mystique, took part. The latter was well attended by students, both men and women.”

Wilson, for whom Wilson House was named when she retired in 1970, went on to note that a student had assured her that the Duke chapter of the women’s liberation movement was not officially allied with the national Women’s Liberation Front. Instead, wrote Wilson, “The Duke ‘chapter,’ known as Women’s Liberation 11, is so called, [the student] said, ‘because there are 11 of us.’ [The student] named several members, then hesitated, and said, ‘I can’t remember—the group changes every day. Sometimes the membership is reduced to 3.’ Although there are very few ‘militants,’ the number of informed students, who are concerned about inequities to which women are subjected, is increasing.”

As Wilson was reflecting on the last of her record forty years as dean, John Clum, professor of theater studies and English, was busy putting the finishing touches on an experimental project slated to begin that fall. Originally called the New Curriculum Project, the initiative was an outgrowth of Duke-specific and nationwide campus initiatives to integrate academics with students’ residential and social lives. Clum had spearheaded the project and was overseeing the selection of the first cohort of students—twenty-seven men and twenty-seven women. Priority was given to juniors and seniors and those enrolled in independent study or self-designed Program II courses of study.

Clum, who now directs the Duke in London Drama Program, says that from the start, the institutional mission of the program was creatively interpreted by students. “My title was director of the experimental program at Wilson House, but as soon as the students were accepted, they met without me or anyone in the administration and renamed themselves SHARE,” he says. Intended to be an intellectual exercise in an era when living-learning models were being introduced on college campuses, SHARE immediately became fertile ground for testing both educational and social norms. Clum says that some members of the group took the phrase “residential experimentation” more euphemistically than others, with a few couples sharing rooms (and beds) despite warnings from senior administrators that such behavior would not be tolerated.

“I found myself in the very awkward position of being between some behavior I myself was very uncomfortable with and an often angry Woman’s College administration. The dean of women, Paula Phillips Burger [’67, A.M. ’74], a good friend, and Juanita Kreps [A.M. ’44, Ph.D. ’48, Hon. ’93], dean of the Woman’s College, and I spent many hours worrying, arguing, and commiserating in Juanita’s kitchen.” Burger, now a Duke trustee and vice provost and dean of undergraduate education at the Johns Hopkins University, says she could understand that the push for coeducational opportunities was considered an imperative for women at the time. But she felt then—and still feels now—that SHARE and subsequent coeducational housing in Southgate and other East campus dorms marked the beginning of the end of the Woman’s College, an inevitable—if not altogether positive—step. “My own reaction was that with the Woman’s College, we had the best of both worlds,” she says. “We had access to the university’s resources, but we also had mentors and administrators who were there specifically to help women develop their leadership abilities and find their voice. Some students saw that as patronizing. I saw it as evidence of caring deeply about women.”

Royalty: Excluded from the official slate of candidates, Terrell managed a suprising win. Jane Terell

Randall Grass ’71 says that he applied to SHARE only in part because it provided an avenue for questioning the status quo. Most important, he says, it promised a more dynamic educational approach than the traditional classroom experience. “Duke had a lot of great professors, but 90 percent of the time, you were sitting there listening to lectures,” he says. “To me, that wasn’t a very effective way to learn. SHARE was about different ways of learning. It was also about shaping our own learning—we brought in speakers and designed courses. We talked about books we were reading, and we questioned the status quo. It was the most important experience I had at Duke.”
John Terrell came to Duke because of its strong science curriculum—he majored in biology—and was drawn to SHARE because he wanted to branch out from his science-focused academic world. (Terrell’s father was a Manhattan Project engineer, and Terrell recalls that the checks issued by his hometown bank bore an image of a tiny mushroom cloud.)

“I loved that experience,” Terrell says of SHARE. “It was everything I wanted. Plus I was a pretty shy guy back then, and I saw it as an opportunity to get to know women on a friendship level.” Terrell and Grass lived down the hall from each other on the first floor of Wilson House and became close friends.

One day that first fall, a group of SHARE residents was standing outside the dorm when a young woman with a clipboard came by. She was soliciting nominations for Homecoming Queen and asked the group who their candidate would be. “I caught a glimpse of her clipboard,” Terrell says, “and the rules said that [a candidate] had to be a senior living on East Campus. So I jumped up and said, ‘That’s me!’ It wasn’t like I was trying to make a statement; I was just joking around. But, immediately, people [in SHARE] thought it was a good idea.” The rules predated SHARE and the incursion of men into the sacrosanct space of the Woman’s College, so there had been no need to state explicitly that a candidate had to be a woman.

About a week later, as voting for Homecoming Queen began, a poster on the main quad of West Campus showed pictures of the twelve female candidates for Homecoming Queen—but no Terrell. Dormmate Mark Kunkel (who met his future wife, Jean Surat Kunkel B.S.N. ’73, when both were SHARE participants) took Terrell’s picture—“We tried to make him look as ugly as possible,” he recalls—and thumbtacked it to the poster.

Terrell’s nomination—and his exclusion from the official slate—became a springboard for a wider discussion of women’s roles and rights. Letters to The Chronicle called the contest “insulting to women and a symbol of the continuing degradation of women at Duke and elsewhere." Others complained of the unfairness of excluding Terrell, even though he met the qualifications. SHARE resident Carlie Coats Jr. ’73 implored that “everyone, in the spirit of liberty and equality, help us: Cast your write-in ballot for John Terrell.”

As it turned out, students did just that, and Terrell garnered the majority of votes. In the forty years since the election, memories have grown hazy. It’s not entirely clear how the decision was made to dub Christy Stauffer Sturgeon (the next top vote-getter) as queen. Kunkel recalls that it was a deal struck between members of Wilson House and the Homecoming committee. Halftime announcer Tom Fine, who served on the student Homecoming committee, recalls that the committee members convened the Friday before the game and came up with the dual-winner solution.

History endures: Sturgeon forgot about her Homecoming crown until decades after graduation, when she found it as she cleared out her parents' house. Billy Howard

Regardless of how it transpired, Christy Stauffer Sturgeon’s crowning as 1970 Homecoming Queen and John Terrell’s irreverent yet symbolic nomination for the title marked the end of a chapter. The following year, students decided to abandon the Homecoming Queen contest and opted instead for an Ugliest Man on Campus contest. Students paid a nominal sum to vote, and proceeds went toward funding a daycare center for Duke employees. (SHARE nominated a woman, but she lost.)

Sturgeon still has the crown that marks her place in history as Duke’s last Homecoming Queen. She lives in Atlanta, is retired, and dotes on her five-year-old granddaughter, Fiona. She came to Duke from a family of “pretty conservative Goldwater Republicans. I remember arriving on campus with a collection of tweedylooking people, and by the end of our four years together, things had really started to change.”

When she was nominated by her friends in Brown House to represent them as Homecoming Queen candidate, she was flattered and honored, she says. She chooses not to focus on the negative comments that arose about the contest. “The letters to the editor were a little hurtful because I didn’t see myself as a stereotypical beauty-queen type. I was nominated by my peers and didn’t campaign for it.” Instead, she recalls the experience as a fun moment in time. Afterward, she and her family, who had driven up from Atlanta for the game, went out for a celebratory dinner at Hartman’s Steak House.

Sturgeon went on to earn a master’s in elementary education from Emory University and became an educational counselor and, later, a school psychologist. Over time, she forgot about the crown until, decades later, she was clearing out her parents’ house and discovered that her mother had kept it all those years.
After graduation, Terrell and Grass struck out on a world trip that eventually took them to Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. They spent time in Afghanistan and Iran, from which both applied to Duke’s master of arts in teaching program, mailing their materials from a post office in Tehran. Terrell was accepted and went on to a successful career teaching students in a variety of settings: residential treatment, therapeutic day care, in-home care.

Grass chose to pursue a career in music as a business executive, writer, musician, and radio-show host. He lives in Marlton, New Jersey, where he is general manager of Shanachie Entertainment.

Terrell now lives in Sevierville, Tennessee, and teaches biology at the local high school. He still revels in the memory of his unlikely place in Duke history. “It was such an exuberant time,” he says. “It really started out as an innocent thing, and I think people responded to it because, for whatever reasons, they were ready for it. “My only regret is that I might have taken something away from Christy.”

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