City University of New York (CUNY) students and staff, a group of a little more than 50, rallied in the hot sun on Brooklyn College’s campus last Thursday to demand job security for faculty and adjunct professors, specifically Black hires; anti-racist programs and the removal of the imposing NYPD presence on campus.
In front of the main gates, they constructed memorials of old shoes and roses while giving hotly inspired speeches.
“We have an administration that does not seem to care about their Black, Latino, and Muslim students,” said Jessica Johnson, former Vice President of Student Government, generally referring to racial tensions in the college’s past.
The activists cited two fairly recent instances where faculty and students were unfairly targeted, sparking cultural tension.
In 2018, two college professors spoke openly for the appointment of Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh, despite sexual harassment allegations across campus, and against immigrants and Latinx students.
In 2011, spurred by the 9/11 attacks in 2001, NYPD police on Brooklyn College’s campus heavily spied on Muslim students and communities in the name of counter terrorism.
Puerto Rican Alliance President Daniel Vazquez wrote in a blog post on June 16 about “transformative solidarity and not token statements of support” for Black and Brown lives as well as uprisings against police brutality and structural racism on campus and abroad.
Vazquez said that although the campus is situated in a primarily Black neighborhood, Brooklyn College doesn’t have as many students or staff of color as they could, and fails to address “the daily abuses of Black staff, faculty, and students.”
Vazquez said last year he had suggested, among other things, an anti-racist committee that was decentered from the college but could report back when needed. He said without enough support or attention his suggested solutions to institutional bias and racism were ignored.
“We are tired,” said Alan Aja, Chair of Brooklyn College’s Department of Puerto Rican and Latino Studies. “We need a people’s budget. We need community control of the college’s budget, of CUNY’s budget, and the state budget. Enough of this. That budget must center Black and Indigenous bodies. It must center our department and work it’s way out, so that every student benefits.”
“Black students, and Black and non-Black Puerto Rican students, across CUNY organized throughout the social studies decades ago. And through their struggle brought about the institutes for Afro American Studies and Puerto Rican Studies at Brooklyn College,” said Alumni Christopher Lasasso, “Those institutes were not the sum total of demands but they were an expression of a desire to reimagine the place of higher public education in New York City that up until recently had prioritized and primarily served White students.”
Lasasso said that both of these institutes are “dropped” or for the most part “defunct” and are proof that the administration treats standing against anti-Blackness like a “pet project.”
After the short rally, the protesters marched the 1.5 miles to President of CUNY Brooklyn College President Michelle J. Anderson’s sanctioned house located on the corner of Westminster and Beverly Roads in Prospect Park South to symbolically lay their demands and signs on the mansion’s doorstep, occasionally chanting “Fund CUNY, Not Cops.”
On the way a few cop cruisers and an unmarked car slowly followed the protesting caravan off campus and through the streets, blocking traffic where needed. Besides unease as to why the police were present, the group had no incident with them.
According to a CUNY Brooklyn College spokesperson, Anderson was out of town at the time of the rally and march, and no one from Brooklyn College’s administration, including Anderson, called for an NYPD escort.
Neighborhood Coordination Officers, or NCOs, from the 70th Precinct, at the scene said they were monitoring social media and wanted to make sure the proceedings were safe.
However, earlier that morning, Anderson had circulated a school-wide email that read, “We at Brooklyn College must address how racism has shaped our history and how it continues to infect our present. I am moved by the experiences, concerns, and ideas that our students, staff, and faculty have shared––including those voiced by members of Black Faculty and Staff, Faculty of Color, Latino Faculty and Staff, and the Puerto Rican Alliance, among others. I hear the pain, anger, and frustration, as well as a sincere hope for real change. The work to address racism in all its forms is a priority at Brooklyn College, and we must do more.”
Her email goes on to detail the ways in which the school can move beyond “diversity and inclusion” taking inspiration from “the demands presented to us by multiple groups.”
It lists solutions, like active listening sessions with faculty and students of color, implementation of a racial justice team, a reimagining of campus safety, success systems for students of color, diverse faculty hiring, bringing on a diversity mentorship coordinator, and reinvesting into culturally relevant curriculums and the departments of Africana Studies, and Puerto Rican and Latino Studies.
Johnson said Anderson’s email was cute, but she wanted to see action to save adjunct professors’ jobs and to remove NYPD from Brooklyn College’s campus as well.
“Tons of our students work and still have to come to Brooklyn College. [Should] we feel unsafe when we get here? Should we not have the resources we need to graduate? At this point it feels like there’s an agenda to keep us from climbing to the next part of our lives,” said Johnson.