By Kacy George
The City College of New York Black Studies Program joined in celebrating the college’s open admissions policy resulting from the impact of student advocacy.
On Tuesday March 17 to Thursday March 19, the 1969-2019 Takeover festivities of “remembering our past, continuing our legacy” of scholarly activism. Attendees relished in the memories and sacrifices made to ensure that the CCNY can now proudly claim the title of being one of America’s most diverse campuses.
Francee Covington, a participant of the Takeover, a co-founder of The Paper, CCNY, and an attendee at the event remarked how, “this gorgeous campus that was being touted as being one of the world’s best public universities had a very low percentage of brown and black people.”
The protest started on April 22, 1969 and lasted about two weeks. Black and Puerto Rican students, supported by faculty and white students, advocated for a more progressive agenda at CCNY.
The purpose of the Takeover was documented in the “Five Demands,” where protestors cited the need for the school to focus on Black and Puerto Rican Studies, the creation of an orientation for the community minority groups, an increased role of SEEK students in setting the guidelines of the program, equitable racial composition of those entering the freshman class reflective of the high school population and that all education majors be required to take Black/Puerto Rican History and the Spanish Language.
The student population who participated remember their inspiration from the activism of the era, deciding to amplify their advocacy for open admissions. The 1969 CCNY President Marshak noting “the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr, coming as it did when the opposition to the Vietnam War peaked, campus confrontations clearly were to be expected.”
At the time, about 9% of the City College student population were Black and Puerto Ricans. Today, 50 years later, Hispanic and Black students account for roughly 53% of the student population.
The Five Demands was about inclusion, investment, and perceived value. Student advocates who demanded the expansion of the college agenda to lessen exclusion of the community population is part of a larger conversation about place for the impoverished.
During the celebration, Mr. Lumumba Bandele, Director of Community Organizing at NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund recalls the sentiment of activism among the people that lead to the 1969 Takeover. He notes that the conditions that led to the activism still exists today and urges those in attendance to “hold onto the principles that inspired the struggle.”
He cites that although the media tried painting the ‘69 protest with the riots of the period; it was clear that the impact of such protests was being felt across institutional structures in New York, the country, and the world.
The idea of “decentralized collective leadership,” was in part why the protest was successful. Under one agenda, multiple group leaders are able to bring their cohort’s voices to the chorus to incite change.
At the event, The City College of New York newly appointed, Vanessa Valdez, Director of Black Studies notes the difference between Ivy League institutions and public serving colleges and universities whose agenda aligned with the community and the population they served. While the former may be committed to erasure, CCNY has been dictated by its themes of democracy not as easily repudiated with the influence of capital.
As the fight for inclusion and worth continues in college campuses across America, Valdez vowed to attendees to return Black Studies back to a department from a program, stating, “your efforts did not go in vain,… keep me accountable…this remains your college.”