Above: City College students march through Hamilton Heights in Harlem to protest closure of Morales/Shakur Center, by Jeff Mays.
I had the honor to work with Peter Camejo who ran for vice president with Ralph Nader in 2004, ran for president in 1976 and governor of California on several occasions. Camejo was suspended from Berkeley during the Vietnam War era and the Free Speech movement. His “crime” was using a megaphone — really being a leader of protests. He went on to be a career advocate for social justice and a success in business as one of the founders of the socially responsible investment movement. I expect Khalil Vasquez and Tafadar Sourov who were suspended indefinitely from City College for their organizing leadership to go on to great careers as advocates for human rights and social justice. These colleges should realize that rather than trying to stop active citizenship they should be encouraging it; rather than discouraging people who stand up for what they believe; they should be encouraging them. Their actions against Khalil and Tafador show the flaws of their leadership, their fear of organized students and their weakness while highlighting the strength of Khalil and Tafador and an organized student movement. KZ
Khalil Vasquez, 22, a senior and Tafadar Sourov, 19, a sophomore, say they were intercepted by campus police and an NYPD officer as they attempted to attend class Monday morning and told they were no longer allowed on campus following last week’s protests over the closure of the Guillermo Morales/Assata Shakur Student and Community Center on the third floor of the North Academic Center at 138th Street and Convent Avenue.
Thursday’s protest turned rowdy with campus police using pepper spray and arresting an alumnus of the college for disorderly conduct and endangering the welfare of a minor after officials say protesters trying to push their way into the building caused an unsafe situation.
“What this is really about is the college trying to squash political dissent,” said Vasquez who was due to graduate in the spring.
Sourov agreed. “This is them targeting the leaders and trying to kill the drive to save the Morales/Shakur Center,” he said, adding that they plan to fight the administrative charges.
Protests over the sudden closure of the center last week continued Monday with students speaking out in front of the administrative building before marching through the streets of Hamilton Heights to Broadway. A police car came to escort the crowd of about 50 students as they marched on Broadway.
“We have a lot of youth who are illiterate about their history,” said Paul George, 54, a building superintendent in the area who said he opposed the center’s closure and planned to help students after speaking to one of the protesters.
“And to do this in Harlem of all places with the rich history here,” added Melvin Simmons a porter and producer of a news program on public access television.
Deidra W. Hill, City College’s vice president for communications and marketing, declined to comment about the suspensions.
“Information on student disciplinary actions is confidential,” said Hill.
City College officials reclaimed the Morales/Shakur Center early Sunday morning on Oct. 20, just before midterm exams. The space will be used to expand the City College Careers and Professional Development Institute.
The Morales/Shakur Center was given to students following the 1989 protests over tuition hikes. It is named for Morales, a Puerto Rican separatist who lost his fingers and an eye when a bomb he was making exploded, and Shakur, a member of the Black Liberation Army formerly known as Joanne Chesimard, who was convicted in the 1973 shooting death of a New Jersey state trooper.
There has been controversy surrounding the name of the center. In 2006, the college removed a sign with the name of the center following complaints. Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the higher education committee, has called for the community room to be returned to students.
Students said they plan to continue their protest and see this as a larger fight against planned changes to the university’s policies on “expressive activities” such as protests.
Natasha Adams, 20, a junior at City College, said dozens of other students are now worried about being expelled.
“This exposes them because they say they protect free speech but then turn around and do something that is designed to try and stop protests,” said Adams.