On Dec. 5, students and Harlem community members plan to march on the City College of New York (CCNY) to protest a string of actions taken by the college and the City University of New York (CUNY).
Over the course of the fall semester, students have protested against the return of the ROTC and former head of the CIA Gen. David Petraeus teaching at Macaulay Honors College. Six students, the “CUNY Six,” were arrested and charged in relation to these protests. Then, City College repurposed the space for the Morales/Shakur Community Center, a space that housed 24 student and community groups, including the Black Student Union, the Revolutionary Student Coordinating Committee, the People’s Survival Program (PSP) and more.
Students and community members protested the appropriation of this space and the seizure of their personal and organizational belongings that were in the space. As a result of these protests, two students were suspended and charged by the district attorney on various counts. Finally, students were joined by faculty union members and the transit workers’ union in protests against the CUNY board of trustee’s new, proposed Policy on Expressive Activity, which would limit and restrict freedom of assembly and the ability to protest on all of the CUNY campuses.
In Harlem, the protestors’ main focus is the Morales/Shakur Center. When the center was taken last month, all of the students’ and organizations’ belongings were boxed up and transferred to a storage facility. Last week, Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez and members of CUNY student government were the first group of people to be allowed back into the space since it was taken from the community.
“One of the challenges was who was in there and who to contact and what was going on,” said Juana Reina, vice president for student affairs, explaining that the college knew little of the programing being provided in the center. “In hindsight, this could’ve been done very differently.”
With the space repurposed as a corporate arm of CCNY’s career center, the walls whitewashed and the room emptied out, students said they were still fighting to get the space back.
“I’m optimistic,” said Domingo Estevez, president of University Student Senate at Borough of Manhattan Community College, who was present for the tour. “I feel that we can get our center back. The problem is, are we willing to get it back? Are we willing to actually fight for it?”
Students and community members have become diligent in that fight, hosting events to protest for the return of the center nearly every day. They have held call-ins, where supporters of the center call and email members of the CCNY and CUNY administration nonstop for a couple hours, flooding their communications systems and forcing them to only receive information about the center for a set time. They have held teach-ins and speak-outs this week to discuss the effects of the loss of the center, which include many canceled community events and services. “No center, no peace,” read all of the email blasts going out from the coalition working to regain and preserve the Morales/Shakur Center.
“I hope that more religious leaders, labor and elected officials, they come on board and approach CUNY and City College, let them know how important this place is,” said City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, who is chairman of the Higher Education Committee and a former CCNY student organizer from the 1989 student protests and creation of the Morales/Shakur Center. Rodriguez said he will be marching on Dec. 5 because while he values his political science degree from CCNY, “the most important degree that I got from CUNY was learning how to be a good organizer and learning to share those democratic values.”
“We want to preserve NAC 3201 [the room formerly occupied by the Morales/Shakur Center, and this is not only my position, but this is also the position of the Undergraduate Student Center, the Student Senate and most of the elected officials. We all believe that because of the historical role the center has played, preserving 3201 is worth it for CUNY and for the surrounding community.”
Organizers for the Dec. 5 protests say they have been receiving calls and support from various elected officials, including City Council Member Charles Barron and City Council Member Andy King.
More community members have been lending their support as well, and two marches are now scheduled to go from points in the Harlem community to protest the closing of the Morales/Shakur Center. A community center at 139th Street and Broadway will serve as the first meeting point from 1:30-4 p.m., and P.S. 123, the Mahalia Jackson school on 133rd Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard will serve as the second. Students from Columbia University have also said they will rally and march up to CCNY in support.
“Everyone is coming together. Folks are planning to meet the marches at their starting points,” said Brother Shep, People’s Survival Program’s outreach communications coordinator. “Folks will go to the community first, then to march up to the college.”