Students protest closing of Morales/Shakur Center at City College

Herb Boyd | 10/24/2013, 5:39 p.m.
Using a call-and-response style popularized by the Occupy Movement, hundreds of students gathered outside—and later inside—City College in Harlem on ...

Using a call-and-response style popularized by the Occupy Movement, hundreds of students gathered outside—and later inside—City College in Harlem on Monday afternoon, protesting the closing of the Guillermo Morales/Assata Shakur Student and Community Center in the NAC (North Academic Center) building.

The center, named after two political activists, has been a key organizing space for students and activists since 1989, and it has been a point of contention since its inception.

On Sunday, the administration locked down the center, cleared the room of activist posters, signs and student possessions, and renamed it the Careers and Professional Development Institute. Gone are the radical images, including those of Malcolm X and Shakur, who resides in Cuba. The FBI recently announced a $2 million bounty for Shakur’s arrest and conviction.

“No center, no peace!” the crowd answered one of the speakers.

According to an official statement from the administration, the center was removed for purposes of converting it into a resource space. However, several activists believe otherwise. “They are opposed to our politics and our activism,” said one protester, a student at the school who refused to state her name. “To them, Assata Shakur is a blemish on the school, but for us, she is a freedom fighter.”

“What they have done is an illegal takeover of the center,” said Brother Shep, who for several years has been a leader at the center. “We have a legal contract and a right to be there.”

Just before Brother Shep began to speak, a fire drill emptied the school. Whether a student or security did it, it provided the demonstrators an opportunity to alert the entire student body about the closing of the center. If it was a ploy to empty the school in order to close it down, the ploy backfired, and after the drill was over, students assembled inside on the mezzanine but were not allowed to gather on the floor above at the newly named center.

“The room is a historical place run by students,” said Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, an alumnus of the school and former student activist who was instrumental in starting the center. “I have told the administration that the center has to be restored as a space for students and the community to assemble.”

“Save the Center, save the space,” cried Rakim Jenkins, who has been a student-activist at the college for five years. “This was our safe space, and we want it back.”

Professor Bill Crain of City College, a faculty member from Hunter College; Indigo Washington, from Councilman Charles Barron’s office; and Tony Gronowicz, the Green Party candidate for mayor, were among the speakers. “Many faculty members are behind you,” Crain told the students, and he is no stranger to speaking out for just causes at the college and elsewhere.

Brother Shep said an organizing committee will be meeting to decide what steps to take as they go forward. Meanwhile, the crowd continued to chant, “No center, no peace!”