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Where Do The CCNY Student Protests Go From Here?


By Elizabeth Reich & Richard Jones

The rally in support of Palestine held by the City College of New York (CCNY) chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine on May 13, started and ended without any serious conflict with the many public safety officers surrounding the demonstration. But, on that first day students were back on campus, it was clear they had not forgotten what transpired on April 30, when the CUNY Gaza Solidarity Encampment was disassembled.

Campus is rife with tension since the CCNY chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) reaffirmed that they don’t trust Public Safety of the CCNY Administration. At the rally on May 13, they pointed at two officers present, alleging that they pepper sprayed and pushed protesters at the CUNY Encampment. 

The SJP also showed they are not willing to fully cooperate with the administration by not protesting in the designated zone (pictured above)– an area some nicknamed, “the free speech area”-- and choosing to protest outside regular club hours. This signals a departure from their previous protests on campus. Before the CUNY Gaza Solidarity Encampment, protests usually started and ended during club hours and were also held, without pushback, at the North Academic Center (NAC) plaza sundial.

Public Safety’s next steps are not clear. After the last interaction, when public safety officers asked the protesters to go to the “free speech zone” zone, any dialogue between the two groups ended. Most of the officers just stood around. Some watched the demonstration, others stared at their phones, and a few groups talked amongst themselves. It looked as though they were hesitant to engage. The same fear of escalation the protesters felt from an excessive security presence on April 30th, seemed to be shared by the officers stationed at the rally. 

Although Public Safety decided not to engage the demonstrators, it seems that everyone involved, including the CCNY administration, are at a stalemate. 

The reluctance to engage is creating an uneasy and unclear atmosphere. What are the protesters and public safety to do, now that they find themselves in a state of constant confrontation? The college's response thus far has been to shift blame, remake policy, and trample student activism by presenting oppositional narratives. The college has restricted campus protest and speech by dictating where and when discontent can be expressed, and increased spending on services that don’t directly contribute to students’ academic success. 

By creating a zone of allowable protest, the CCNY Administration has placed their public safety officers in an impossible position. The disagreements exist fundamentally between the administration and the protesters. When the administration decides to establish new restrictions, no matter how students will feel about them, and expect public safety officers to uphold them, it is those officers that face the direct anger of the demonstrators.

The CUNY Administration must take a more active role to enable open, constructive dialogue, instead of spending millions on excess security that erodes the trust CCNY students, faculty, and the public have with our university and, unfortunately, each other.


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