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NYC’s Public University Gets a Gaza Solidarity Encampment

Just north of Columbia, another encampment represents a more working-class radicalism.

A banner at the Gaza solidarity encampment at City College on Friday April 26, 2024. (Hell Gate)

In the days after the establishment of Gaza solidarity encampments at Columbia University, NYU, and the New School, students at the City University of New York, who wanted to draw attention to CUNY's own ties to the war on Gaza, knew that they had to take action. So, early on Thursday morning, dozens of students pitched tents on the quad of City College in Hamilton Heights. 

"It was just inspiring honestly," said J., a Palestinian student at City College, who didn't want to give his full name for fear of repercussions from the administration, about the actions at Columbia. "To have such a prestigious university spearhead this movement, the university intifada, it was a call to start a movement."

Sara Abdulaziz, a Palestinian student at Hunter College, speaks to the crowd. (Hell Gate)

Located twenty blocks uptown from Columbia University, the students at CUNY, who took over the main quad at CCNY's bucolic campus on Thursday morning, represented a different demographic than the one at the Ivy League school. CUNY undergraduates are over 75 percent people of color, and over 60 percent receive Pell grants. At Columbia, 60 percent of undergraduates are people of color, and just 19 percent of students receive Pell grants

"CUNY is the home of marginalized communities and part of low-income households that have been part of liberation movements, like Black Lives Matter, and Stop Asian Hate. This encampment is so many different struggles coming together to fight for one liberation goal," said Sara Abdulaziz, a Palestinian student at Hunter College, and the president of that school's chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine.

(Hell Gate)

According to student protesters, City College was chosen for the encampment because of its own history of activism, and its centrality to the sprawling CUNY system which stretches from the Bronx to Staten Island. Several CUNY students, from Hunter College and Queens College, as well as the Graduate Center, said they had come to City College to gather and protest instead of sticking to their own campuses. 

By Thursday afternoon, tents were scattered across the quad as different areas of the encampments offered food, medical support, and sign-making stations to students. At the center of the encampment, students had raised a Palestinian flag on a pole, and speakers took turns either describing the protesters demands, or leading the crowd of several hundred in chants. 

Abdulaziz said the goal was to convince CUNY to end investing its endowment "into Zionist companies, companies that profit off of the Palestinian genocide." 

J. pointed to City College's endowment, which has investments in funds that include Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, both weapons contractors, as being a target of the protests. City College's endowment was near $300 million as of 2019

Another demand of the protesters is a "New Deal for CUNY," which they see as intrinsically tied to the spirit of radicalism that helped establish the city's (formerly free) public university. The "New Deal for CUNY" is a set of state-level legislation that would eliminate tuition at CUNY, and replace it with enhanced state and city funding for the university

Early on Thursday evening, the NYPD and campus police attempted to enter the encampment, but were pushed back by student protesters who kicked them off the quad. 

Parked nearby, large white buses belonging to the Department of Correction were being readied for mass arrests, but as of Friday midday, no arrests or raids of the encampment had taken place. Unlike the protests at Columbia and NYU, where the university presidents invited the NYPD onto private property, City College property is technically public. But CUNY has years of precedent involving student protests that clearly delineate when the NYPD can get involved, and when CUNY's own police force is used, in order to keep the NYPD off of campuses during protests like this one. Still, the university has several regulations regarding protest about what is and what is not allowed. 

Student negotiators with the encampment told Hell Gate that they haven't heard anything from CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez or the City College administration. Hell Gate reached out to CUNY for comment but has not heard back. There were no counter protestors at the encampment on Thursday afternoon. 

(Hell Gate)

Abdulaziz, the leader of Hunter College's SJP, reflected on what has made the CUNY encampment different from others, and how the protest has taken inspiration from CUNY's 1969 protests, which sought racial equity in the city's university system

"Here we are as students, of all different types of backgrounds, standing up without any fear in their heart—no fear in their heart against NYPD, no fear in their heart against the administration, and no fear to lose their jobs, to lose their careers, to lose their livelihoods," she said. "They're not scared of anything because they're here to liberate Palestine, they're here to demand divestment from administration, and they're here to take back their college and their community."

Update (4/27/24 at 10:24 a.m.) This article has been updated to more clearly describe when the NYPD is allowed onto CUNY campuses.

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