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CUNY Shuts Down Social Justice Center Over Pro-Palestine Exhibit

The Borough of Manhattan Community College is shutting down its Social Justice and Equity Centers after complaints from Pro-Zionist professors about an exhibit on Palestinian resistance. Faculty are fighting back.

Left Voice

June 26, 2023
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Faculty and staff at the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) in New York City have issued a statement (posted below) decrying the proposed closure of the school’s newly established Social Justice and Equity Centers (SJEC).

The SJEC, which was founded only last year with a mission to offer programs, events, workshops, and training for and about historically marginalized and oppressed groups at the college, is planned to be closed on June 30. Although the administration told the Centers’ workers that they were being shut down because of a lack of funding, it’s highly unusual for a college to found a new center like this only to close it less than a year later. Indeed, there is plenty of money available to keep the centers’ operating as planned, including an entire year’s worth of funds from the original founding grant that have not yet been used.

However, as the statement makes clear, the centers are not being closed because of a lack of money, but as an act or retaliation for a Pro-Palestinian exhibition last march and other planned events about Palestine. That exhibition, a large multi-panel timeline of Palestinian resistance to Israel’s illegal occupation, was taken down in response to a series of very public complaints by pro-Israeli faculty and Zionist organizations, including CAMERA and S.A.F.E. CUNY, who claim that the exhibit violated the civil rights of Jewish students at CUNY. These fake appeals to civil rights make a mockery of the legitimate grievances of marginalized and oppressed communities at CUNY, including the Arab and Palestinian students whose right to speak out against their own oppression and the oppression of their families and friends abroad has been effectively erased.

In response, faculty are demanding that the college not only keep the centers open, but that it also issue a formal apology to the centers’ workers and refrain from any future interference in the centers’ programming. Left Voice stands in solidarity with these faculty and staff members in their brave stand against the censorship of Pro-Palestinian voices at CUNY, and support their demands to reopen the center.

The statement has so far been signed by dozens of BMCC faculty, who are now urging faculty and staff across CUNY to join them. Those who wish to add their name can sign here.

***

Stop the Censorship: Save the SJEC!

[link to add your name to this petition here]

TO: BMCC President Anthony Munroe, Dean of Student Affairs Michael Hutmaker, and VP of Student Affairs Marva Craig

We the undersigned BMCC faculty and staff write to convey our deep concern about the closure of the Social Justice and Equity Centers (SJEC) at BMCC. The SJEC, which comprises the MultiCultural Center, Pride Center, and Social Justice Programs, was founded last year and has since been an essential resource for our campus community, providing, as its website says: “a space for and about Black, Indigenous and students of color (BIPOC), women, queer, undocumented, and marginalized students.” As part of this mission, the SJEC has created vital programming to provide resources for, and to educate our students about, the many, often oppressed, cultures and identities that make up our campus community. 

Now, just one year after it was created, and with an entire year of funding left from its initial founding grant, the BMCC administration is shutting the SJEC down and firing its three staff members. The official rationale for this action is financial, but it is clear that the closure is, in fact, in retaliation for a visual timeline and series of events last March focused on the Palestinian struggle against Israeli occupation. That exhibition was taken down and subsequently censured by the BMCC administration in a clear act of capitulation to several baseless complaints by Pro-Israel and Pro-Zionist faculty, organizations, and student groups, such as S.A.F.E. CUNY, JNS, and CAMERA: all groups which have regularly used their influence and intimidation tactics to shut down discussions and criticism of Israel’s many crimes against the Palestinian people. 

The City University of New York and its unelected Board of Trustees have for too long sought to silence and shut down the voices of those who are opposed to the occupation—the most recent example is the baseless charge of hate speech against CUNY School of Law commencement speaker Fatima Mohammed—all the while allowing Israel’s supporters to freely speak against, to organize against, and to silence the state’s critics at the university. To add insult to the already tremendous injury, administrators are closing down a center committed to racial justice weeks after Juneteenth and are shuttering BMCC’s Pride Center during Pride Month, events that administrators love to publicly honor.  

We have learned that not only were the informational timeline and explanation of historical events relating to the occupation of Palestine censured and canceled, but BMCC administrators additionally demanded the termination of other events pertaining to Muslim and Arab identities more generally, deeming them “controversial.” BMCC is home to hundreds of Arab and Muslim students and proclaims itself to be a sanctuary school, but these actions recall the kinds of anti-Muslim discrimination we witnessed after 9/11 and must not be tolerated in our community. Two Muslim workers involved in this center have received hate mail and death threats; rather than protect them, the college administration is firing them. The investigation proceedings following the censorship of the Palestinian timeline violated CUNY’s Henderson Rules as well as Weingarten Rights that are ostensibly designed to protect these workers, opening them to further harm. It is all the more admirable, then, that the SJEC continued to organize a range of events after this retaliatory backlash, including a self-defense workshop training for BIPOC Muslim women, and a visit to an urban farm in The Bronx that will now be canceled. Shutting down the SJEC is preventing students from accessing the manifold services provided by the centers, and circumventing the future life of the center in case the funding were extended. 

Conservative states across the US are unleashing an assault on educational materials and institutions committed to justice, including book bans, censorious limits on academic discussion, and attacks on cultural institutions. We see the closing of the SJEC in line with this oppressive conservative trend. We the undersigned BMCC and CUNY faculty and staff stand behind the student workers at the center of this backlash and express our full support for the efforts of the SJEC to continue to create a space in the college community supporting the needs of Muslim, queer, undocumented, and other marginalized and oppressed students, and addressing important contemporary and historical political debates. 

For these reasons we demand that the BMCC administration:

  1. reverse its decision to close the SJEC;
  2. issue a public apology to the centers’ coordinators;
  3. and recuse itself from further interference in the centers’ programming. 
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