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Pro-Palestine Students Rally On First Day Back To In-Person Classes

By Elizabeth Reich & Richard Jones

CITY COLLEGE, May 13-- The City College of New York (CCNY) chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) protested May 13th, outside the North Academic Center (NAC). The peaceful protest was planned in response to CCNY President Vincent Boudreau’s handling of the CUNY Gaza Solidarity Encampment, and his statements at the faculty and student town halls held the week after it was cleared. 

Before the protest started, the City College Administration contacted the SJP about the protest. The Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs, Ramón De Los Santos, said in an email posted on the SJP’s Instagram page, “that City College will enforce CUNY’s policies regarding protests and rallies, and we will require a permit prior to any assembly for all student organizations.” In the email, “due to the short notice,” he gave the SJP a permit for their demonstration which was valid from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.. 

De Los Santos also notified the SJP that protesters would only be allowed to stand in a designated, fenced off area, between the NAC and Wingate Hall. And he reminded them that no tents or encampments are allowed.

The SJP captioned their Instagram post of the email, “Found this in the junk mail again.”

Shortly after the Instagram post went public, at 1 PM, a small group of students began chanting from atop the sundial outside the NAC. Almost immediately, public safety officers approached the students and asked that they move to the designated protest area or disperse. 

The students bellowed “Free Palestine!” in response. 

Public Safety told the protesters again that they had to move inside the protest zone, and that the SJP agreed to those terms in a signed document. “I didn’t sign anything,” a protester replied. The Paper was unable to verify the specific document being referenced by Public Safety.

After their third failed attempt at moving the protesters, the public safety officers backed off. They stationed themselves around the group, but did not attempt to force the protesters into the designated area.  Some officers lined Convent Ave, while others stood on the various platforms and paths of the NAC that overlooked the demonstrators. We saw one public safety officer filming the protest for some time on a camcorder. 

A heavy security presence was expected. At his town halls last Tuesday and Wednesday, President Boudreau announced more funding for public safety, to the tune of roughly four million dollars. And though classes resumed in person, the campus is not open to the community like it was before. The majority of the entrances to campus have been blocked off, with public safety officers checking for CCNY ID at the two that remain open. 

From an initial seven students, the crowd at the rally slowly grew to more than 50. There was a core group of roughly 20 students enveloping the sundial. They reiterated their 5 Demands, calling for their immediate adoption at CCNY and all of CUNY. The others stood back or sat on the benches nearby. The protesters kept a path clear for students and faculty entering and leaving the NAC. Some faculty also watched from the side. 

The atmosphere was tense. Students consistently said they felt hesitant. They were hesitant to attend and to speak up. The vast majority of people we spoke to asked to be anonymous in fear that the college would retaliate. Even students and faculty who were told they would be anonymous were hesitant to comment when The Paper asked. 

One demonstrator felt it was important to show up to combat President Boudreau’s narrative about the April 30th encampment sweep. “I think a big reason why we're out here is because Vince Boudreau held a town hall in which there was supposed to be an open dialogue with students, but he gave us no time to actually give our side of the story,” they said. “Now we're just trying to get our side of the story out publicly because we didn't have the opportunity in sort of a more formal setting.”

A student expressed concern about where their tuition is going. “Our school is funding a genocide. My own dollars, that I paid to go to this school, are being used to fund companies like Boeing, and other defense manufacturers that develop weapons that go to Israel,” they said. “That's why it's important for me personally to be out here.”

The protesters were still chanting and demonstrating at 3 p.m., when their last minute permit expired. Public Safety distributed notices to protesters from The Division of Student Affairs around 3:15 PM. In the notice, the college informed protesters that they violated,  “…CUNY policies on student conduct, public order, and specific rules regarding time, place, and manner of expression.” 

The protesters were accused in the notice of blocking others from exercising their rights, failing to comply with directions issued by college officials, and the unauthorized blocking of college facilities. The administration warned demonstrators that if they did not disperse within five minutes, they could be subject to emergency suspension. 

The protesters ripped up their notice flyers in response. 

The protest dispersed around 4 p.m.. The Paper did not hear any reports or speak to any protesters that were suspended. It is unclear if and when the protesters will be back. But in a caption posted by @cunygse May 13, the instagram account for the organizers of the CUNY Gaza Solidarity Encampment, they said that “CUNY students are not backing Down!”


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