By Miguel Johnson & John J. Henry
On November 2, President Boudreau held a student town hall, an open forum for students to voice their concerns directly to the head of the campus. The President initially discussed student retention, the new Office of Experiential Learning, CCNY’s $15 million structural deficit, and the planned $10.3 million budget cuts. However, the tragic developments of the Israel-Palestine conflict quickly became the central focus of the event.
Activists from Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and students from non-affiliated groups shared concerns about CCNY’s response to the escalation of the conflict. A student told the President, “In 2020, CCNY issued a statement [supporting] BLM. They chose to be on the right side of justice.” Then, referencing Nelson Mandela’s visit to the campus in 1990, noted how he had “discuss[ed] the plight of the Palestinians and stood on their side.”
Facing the podium, the student asked, “Will you disrespect his legacy?”
On October 9, President Boudreau released a letter entitled, “Statement on the Violence in Israel” following the attacks by Hamas on October 7. A brief excerpt reads:
“The events of this past weekend marked a sharp and brutal escalation in a conflict that has simmered between Israel and Palestinians for decades. The attack on Israel by Hamas, by primarily targeting civilian Israeli populations, represents an unprecedented and intolerable escalation that we condemn.
“As news reaches us from the region I hope that we can be united in mourning the civilian toll this war will take, wherever our political sympathies lie.”
Rayanne Ahmad, the President of CCNY’s SJP chapter, shared her opinion on the matter. “It felt like a more biased statement than anything, and Palestinian and Arab students felt the tension after that statement came out.”
The President’s statement was one of a slew of well-meaning proclamations expressing the school's support for the victims of the October 7 attacks. However, students called out Boudreau, along with CUNY Chancellor Dr. Felix V. Matos Rodriguez, for their lack of condemnation towards Israel’s subsequent military campaign.
According to Israeli authorities, the attacks on October 7 killed 1,139 Israelis, many of which were civilians. Since then, Israel’s operations have killed over 20,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. According to Reuters, reports on the infrastructural damage in Gaza show that at least 45% of housing units have been damaged or destroyed, 51% of educational institutions have been damaged, and 70% of people in Gaza have no access to clean water.
“My question to you is why your office has failed to condemn the Israeli Defense Forces for the crimes they’ve committed on innocent Palestinian civilians,” Maryam, an attendant of the town hall, asked Boudreau.
His response was met with groans from the audience, “If I spoke out about everything that I thought was wrong, I would be talking about the 6 million that have died in the civil war in the Congo, or the genocide going on in Sudan.” He then added, “I think the loss of life in Gaza and in Israel is reprehensible.”
Rayanne Ahmad, who also attended the meeting, expressed concerns about harassment she has faced as an activist on campus. “I, for one, am a victim of harassment, of a hate crime. I have been called a terrorist, and I have been called a terrorist supporter,” she said.
President Boudreau responded, saying, “You know, this is not the first time I’ve heard somebody say ‘I’ve been the victim of a hate crime,’ or ‘I don’t feel safe on campus.’” He then pointed out the online portal available to students for reporting instances of discrimination and hate on campus, claiming that, of the three complaints dating since June, none of them had been from Arab or Palestinian students.
As more and more students, predominantly those from the Arab and Muslim communities, spoke out about the harassment they had faced as a result of current events, President Boudreau continued to urge them to report their experiences to the authorities. Pointing at his phone screen, he claimed that the online portal hasn’t been used nearly as much as it should be. “You’ve deprived us of the ability to demonstrate our sincerity by responding to those claims,” he said.
Student leaders ultimately agree that all students should reach out to Public Safety if they feel threatened or harassed in order to enable investigations into misconduct. An anonymous Palestinian student shared their own experience, “I was verbally assaulted by another student, about 15 minutes after the rally. I was wearing my Keffiyeh, because I am Palestinian myself. I wrote a statement, and I was called into Public Safety. I felt supported, and the people there do care about our protection. For many students on campus, they don't see [where reporting] leads to. I've been trying to tell them, if anything happens to you, submit it.”
While there is some agreement between the administration and the activists, divisions still remain over fundamental issues. Rayanne tells The Paper, “We have our support for Palestine and our condemnation of the genocide happening in Gaza. That is part of the issue and we want to make that known on campus. One of the main reasons why we had a protest in front of the Wille Administration building is because of the way they handled this political conflict.”
For now, students continue to stage on-campus protests against the IDF’s campaign in the Gaza Strip, the United States’ support of the state of Israel, and both CCNY and CUNY’s response to the overall escalation of the conflict.