After more than 20 years of struggle to create and maintain the center as a space for City College students, the Guillermo Morales/Assata Shakur Community & Student Center at City College was taken by City College on Sunday, Oct 20. In just one week, all community and student possessions were removed, and the process to convert the space into a corporate arm of the college’s career center has begun.
“We’ve [the student affairs office] been trying to incur a number of corporate vendors … we’re trying to increase the number of these corporate entities that our students can apply to,” said Juana Reina, vice president of student affairs at City College, giving General Electric as an example.
Reina explained that the space they have already is embarrassing, is not large enough or quiet enough to bring in “exuberant” people. She said that the career center had been asking for a new space for over a year. “When they said we could have the space, I jumped for it,” she said. “But the college, in hindsight, really recognizes that this wasn’t done in the ideal way.”
Fingers are being pointed in many directions as to who made the call to reallocate the center without notifying students or community members beforehand. Reina points to the president, who granted the space for the career center to the student affairs office, while Vice President of Communications and Marketing Deidra Hill points to the board of trustees.
Regardless, according to some administration officials who had no knowledge of the work being conducted in the center, the space was repurposed to house this new career center expansion without the acknowledgement of the students or officials.
“A room in the North Academic Center (NAC) has been reallocated for the expansion of the City College Careers and Professional Development Institute to provide additional services to students seeking assistance in transitioning from college to the workplace,” reads a press release published by the president’s office.
Students and community members have held three protests against the reallocation of the community center.
“We are not only here to support the students but also to support the legacy of revolutionary struggle,” said Shaka Shakur, a member of the People’s Survival Program (PSP), which had its offices in the center, at Thursday’s protest. Shepard McDaniel, an organizing member of PSP, agreed and said, “Again, it’s really important to understand that it’s an attack on the Black liberation movement. It’s not just the center and what it represents.”
The Morales/Shakur Center has been the object of what some call a “revolutionary struggle” since its inception.
City Council Member and Chairman of the Council’s Higher Education Committee Ydanis Rodriguez was one of the City College students who fought for the creation of the center in 1989. He joined student and community protests following their eviction from the center and said, “I want CUNY to understand that for 24 years 3201 has served as a student community center … Today we need to keep the same center as a symbol of the struggle for social justice, and I hope that we get the support as we did in 1989.”
The center faced many criticisms for its name, which is for two City College alumni. Once before, students and community members were shut out of the space over a dispute over its name, but after a legal battle, the center retained its name. There were 24 student organizations housed in the Morales/Shakur Center when it was shut down and reallocated without notification or forewarning.
“I am the president of the Black Student Union. We’re on campus and promote activism and promote the betterment of our community. We are chartered by the school, and we are also chartered by the Morales/Shakur center because we began there.”
“Although we can meet in other facilities on campus, we have no materials because they were all stored in our room.”
Reina, the person students would typically go to make complaints about the school, is also overseeing the center that has taken the place of the Morales/Shakur Center. She said there is no formal process for students involved to make complaints, but that she is working hard to help students affected by the move.
Reina said she is heading up the procurement process for students and community members to regain their possessions, which have been put into 24 boxes and moved to a storage facility. She has asked representatives of some of the organizations in the center for a list of property so that a procurement person can retrieve these items from storage. She also asked for a short list of people who had property inside and guaranteed that the process would be expedited as soon as these lists are acquired.
But, likening the center to a home in foreclosure, students and community members are saying that their regaining their possessions is not enough.
“You’re talking about eminent domain. That’s what happened. They are the power. They come in and take that property and do what they want without any kind of consultation with you. It’s completely unfair. It’s unjust, and some kind of reparations, some kind of conversation seems to be in order,” said Herb Boyd, faculty advisor to the Morales/Shakur Center, who says he was not notified before the appropriation of the space.
Administration officials say that after taking the space, they began to learn what was going on within the center and realized there is a need for community space. Three days ago, the university began talks to create a new urban center that will be spaced outside the campus for the groups dislocated by the takeover. The new urban center has yet to be named.