It’s 2:02 am on Tuesday, May 15. I am in the 24-hour Library Café writing an essay about how intersecting forms of Patriarchal oppression complement each other within a Capitalist social structure to maintain certain labor relationships fruitful. In this particular essay I focus on undocumented labor- a topic that is very close to my heart. I’m trying to tell my archaic, misogynist Sociology teacher how the “price of admission” for women who cross the U.S border is rape (Did you know you have a racist homophobe in your staff? ).
I hear you are a feminist and so you can understand with a full heart why such a topic would keep me up so late at night. I’m sure you understand quite well how difficult it is to promote one’s intellect and give voice to an injustice, when it falls to the deaf and uncaring ears of those who are in a position of power over you. I am very tired and am certain I’m getting sick, but what’s crazy and life affirming about that, is that I feel really great otherwise. I feel really great about myself, my jobs, my art, my friends, and all the work I have produced this spring semester here at Brooklyn College. I honestly can’t wait to press some reset button and start fresh in the fall.
Anyways, I’m writing to you because I’ve been trying to communicate with you since November 18, 2011, but to no real avail. This is a copy of the first mass email of yours I ever responded to:
Today is the 36th Great American Smokeout (http://www.cancer.org/Healthy/StayAwayfromTobacco/GreatAmericanSmokeout/history-of-the-great-american-smokeout), the American Cancer Society’s annual appeal for smokers to quit.
We all know the health risks of tobacco: lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema and more. Just 12 hours after quitting, the carbon monoxide level in your blood returns to normal. Two weeks after quitting, your heart attack risk begins to drop and your lung function begins to improve. Only one year after quitting, your added risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a smoker’s. Quitting provides tremendous health benefits, but it is also important to consider the financial implications. If you smoke one pack of cigarettes each week, you will save nearly $750 in the next 12 months if you quit today. If you have a pack-a-day habit, quitting will save you more than $4,000 each year.
There are a variety of smoking cessation resources available to our campus community, including behavioral counseling, group counseling and education programs, and individualized pharmacotherapy treatment. More information is available by calling the Health Clinic at 718.951.5580.
I also want to take this opportunity to remind you that Brooklyn College is participating in the CUNY-wide initiative to become a tobacco-free campus. Smoking is now permitted only in four designated areas. Next summer, the entire campus will be 100% tobacco free. For more information on the tobacco-free initiative on our campus, including a map of the designated areas, visit http://www.brooklyn.cuny.edu/tobaccofree.
I join the American Cancer Society in challenging everyone to refrain from smoking for the next 24 hours. Take one step toward a healthier lifestyle and help make our campus healthier for everyone.
Karen L. Gould
To which I responded:
Hello, I tried to visit you yesterday but instead got harassed by police and frightened. I’ve never felt more unsafe and unwelcome in the school I love so so dearly.
I have since learned that simply hitting ‘Reply’ to your emails doesn’t really cut it, but I didn’t know that at this time, which was on November 18th, 2011. If you recall, that was the day the Brooklyn College Student Union had wanted to talk to you, our school leader, about the horrible threat that was looming over us (different than cancer, yes, but dangerous in its own right): the threat of the Board of Trustees vote on our tuition increase throughout CUNY. We were clearly very worried. We also clearly saw an opportunity to speak up.
Ideally in my mind, as the President of Brooklyn College you would have listened to us and said “This vote is going to ruin many lives. I have to protect my student body from dropping out over tuition hikes. I must tell the Board of Trustees that Brooklyn College cannot be a part of this terrible business transaction devised by people who are not involved in academia whatsoever.”
That didn’t happen of course. We were harassed and threatened with force by the campus police and we were kicked out of Boylan Hall. We were filmed. A visiting student from Hunter College and I had our school IDs seized- they gave us no reason why. After being pressured by staff, the campus police gave them back to both of us. It was terrifying and eye opening.
Shortly after this incident, there was the terrible attack on students at Baruch College during the public hearing of the Board of Trustees vote on November 21, 2011. I don’t need to remind you about all the details, but as a witness to this atrocity, I must tell you that it was extremely difficult to stand outside on the sidewalk and watch students being brutalized by police. All I could do was scream in despair and bang on the glass- we all banged on the glass, because there is hardly anything in this world that feels as desperate as not being able to help someone who is being abused.
The very next day I got another one of your mass emails:
Yesterday, the CUNY Board of Trustees approved a tuition plan that will increase tuition by $300 for the next four years. The plan goes into effect beginning fall 2012. Legislation signed into law by Governor Cuomo last July authorizes the annual tuition increases; it also includes a new commitment from the state to maintain level funding for CUNY over the same four-year period.
As I announce to you the approval of CUNY’s tuition plan, I do so with mixed emotions. I am an ardent supporter of publicly funded higher education because it is so vital to our society and to the future of our nation. In these challenging economic times, the opportunity to pursue a post-secondary education is all the more important and should be accessible to all those who seek it. It is unfortunate to see an additional burden of cost transferred to our students and their families.
As I look at the situation in other states around the country, however, where tuition has climbed at much higher rates over the past decade, it is still the case that tuition rates across CUNY are relatively affordable. Tuition at Brooklyn College remains lower than 80 percent of all public universities in the United States. If CUNY had followed the national trend, our tuition would be at least 25 percent higher than it is today. As a general rule, tuition climbs at public institutions when state funding is reduced. The more serious the reductions, the steeper the tuition increases. Since fall 2009, the base budget for Brooklyn College has been cut six times for a total reduction of $7,938,918. Over those same two years, our state allocation has decreased by one third, from $40.7 million to $27 million. These imposed reductions have put tremendous strain on our college and on other CUNY institutions as well. A modest annual increase in tuition is in fact necessary to sustain the quality of our academic programs and make sure that you, our students, can move through your programs of study to graduation in a timely fashion.
We are taking steps to mitigate the impact of the tuition increase, particularly for our neediest students. Last year, we disbursed more than $45 million in federal Pell grants and funds from the state’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP). Tuition will be fully covered for students who are eligible for the maximum TAP award. For these students, Brooklyn College will waive any tuition that is not covered by TAP funding. Students who receive a partial TAP award will receive a proportional waiver.
We will also accelerate our efforts to raise funds for student scholarships. Last year, we awarded $1.39 million in scholarships to 1,229 students, and we have secured additional funding for the coming year.Emergency grants and loans are also available to students for a variety of urgent financial needs. I urge you to contact the Office of Financial Aid at 718.951.5051 or email@example.com to learn more about assistance programs for which you may be eligible.
Brooklyn College will continue to offer a broad range of financial assistance programs, tuition costs among the nation’s lowest, and highly valued degrees that are respected around the world. At the same time, we will continue to seek resources to ensure that all students, regardless of their economic situation, can afford a world-class Brooklyn College education.
Karen L. Gould
It took me a few days to recover from Baruch College and write you back on November 29, 2011:
With all due respect, what you’re really telling me is that I’m just lucky I’m not a first-generation, Latina who is one of the few in her mother’s family to go to college, and who is paying her own way through school in another state.
I’m lucky I live, work, and study in NYC and that I have many resources at hand in this vibrant city, and if I may say so myself, I agree.
That is precisely why I engage in very passionate and mindful student movements as of late: because I love my hometown, I love the people I struggle with, and because luck is no longer enough.
With peace and sincerity,
It is only now that I understand that you had no real way of receiving these responses, so after I send you this very letter, I will kindly forward these dated ones to you, since their urgency hasn’t changed one bit.*
At the end of the fall semester came your Seasons Greetings. This was a bitter time for me. I had to work at this miserable bar where I was paid miserable wages and from which I had to take two trains in the middle of the night to get back home, because I couldn’t afford a cab from the West Village to Crown Heights. This is of course not your fault, but I say this to clarify the frustrated tone in my response.
Here is what you sent the student body for the end of our fall semester 2011:
To which I responded:
Like many of my immigrant and 1st (2nd, 3rd) generation peers with families outside of NYC, I’ll be working in the exploitative (but flexible to students) industry of food service, instead of having a “holiday”.
I have nothing to complain about in regards to my schedule, because I can spend time with people I care about and over-eat some other time.
What I do care to share with you is the fact that working on christmas eve and serving lonely drunks several pints of beer, will hopefully help me pay the difference of my RAISED spring semester tuition, that is INCREASINGLY LESS covered by the Tuition Assistance Program.
Sallie Mae helps “cover” the rest up front, meaning I won’t get kicked out of my courses for not having $1000+ laying around come spring time, which is a cool resource I guess… Except that paying around $150 per month to Sallie Mae is well beyond my means.
The beautiful thing, President Gould, is that despite of the “inevitability” of this tuition hike, I not only have the desire to make my finances work for the sake of my academic passions, I have an ever increasing support system. Because I am not the only one.
Because enough of us are waking up, getting together, and seeking justice and horizontality.
Because true change is possible with love and friendship and hard work.
Wishing you a mindful holiday,
Proud member of the Brooklyn College Student Union
This was a tough season for me.
After this email I realized that getting frustrated through your chain emails was going to get me nowhere. I decided to invite you to one of our Student Union meetings. This I know you received because I sent it directly to your email on February 13th, 2012:
Let’s welcome a RAD new week with a Brooklyn College Student Union meeting this Wednesday @ 5pm in 3413 James Hall (open only to students*)
If you haven’t met us before or are not certain about what the Student Union actually does, check this out:
or just stop by and say hello!
Brooklyn College General Assembly this Thursday @ 12:30 pm in front of Boylan Hall (this is open to the whole BC community)
What is a General Assembly?
It’s an all-inclusive group of people engaging in a radical and peaceful dialogue. It is a space where one can voice concerns, challenges, and experiences as a CUNY student and beyond.
It is a democratic tool to raise awareness, make collective decisions, and take mindful actions as a unified student body.
You can also check out this resource:
If you’re interested in the broader mechanics of a GA.
Sooo what’s this gotta do with me?
Good question: everything! Whether you are a seasoned activist or totally new to dissent, we’re all in this together!
If you’re concerned about CUNY budget cuts, tuition hikes (1500 dollar hikes, really?), an overpaid chancellor & co.,
underpaid educators and staff, racist student surveillance, police harassment on campus, and more…
THIS IS YOUR TIME TO SPEAK UP!
All Are Welcome
All right, so maybe I failed to properly invite you by saying it was “for students only”, but I guess this was one of my first attempts at trying to directly communicate with you. I was naïve, but I honestly imagined you participating in one of our general assemblies someday. In retrospect I feel sorry for myself for thinking it could really be that simple to speak to you about my concerns, that were now growing deformed and heavier. I didn’t know then just how deep the trenches are between us. Just how many cops with weapons stand ready to hurt me for wanting to speak to you. Like I have anything other than my voice to “fight” with. You have an army. I have my soft flesh.
St. Patrick’s day this year was unbelievably traumatic for me. I don’t deal well with violence. After attending an amazing Saturday full of panels at Pace University at the Left Forum, there was a march from the event to Liberty Plaza in New York’s financial district. We had talked the talk all day, but could we walk the walk? Turns out we could. I remember students, artists, and intellectuals everywhere. I remember joy, seeing friends I hadn’t seen in a long time, and others that I only see at certain times. I saw a handful of my teachers and classmates. Then like some sort of magic, a St. Patrick’s Day band and their dancers showed up! It was beautiful; we all cheered. We started dancing and celebrating, acknowledging how wonderful it was that they should share their music and holiday with us. The police immediately silenced, surrounded them and threatened to arrest them. They treated the band like criminals. The band looked confused and scared. Then things just went very wrong very fast.
My god… I sent you the letter Zoltan Gluck of the CUNY Graduate Center wrote in response to the unbelievably cruel assault on us by the NYPD. I trust that you have watched the videos included. What you didn’t watch was me watching a girl my size get tackled by a 200 pound officer out of nowhere, get her face smashed on the pavement and her hands twisted to the point of almost breaking, only to get her in a pair of cuffs. Before he succeeded at doing that, I had held on to her: as I mentioned before, I don’t deal well with abuse and what I saw was someone that was my equal being dragged by an enormous man that was out to violate her integrity, even if the law had empowered him to do so. I had held her, had wanted to protect her, but when my tugging and the cop’s tugging was harming her, I had to let her go… and just watch her be brutalized.
President Gould, I haven’t slept the same since then. My dreams are haunted by men that hunt me, men that want to hurt me. My work has only grown tireless since then. My voice is that of someone that knows full well that they are a meaningless sack of bones in the eyes of the state.
After this night, I had to recover once again and then found the strength of nightmares but also of hope to write to you on my own accord. I included Zoltan’s letter and the videos of our abuse and most disturbing of all, of a woman having a seizure and the police denying her the care of a trained medic.
My email from March 20, 2012 was titled “These are the people…”
That you have watching over us on campus, President Gould.
These are the people whose numbers have doubled before my very eyes.
do not feel safe at my own school.
Please reconsider the NYPD’s role in our education and well-being at Brooklyn College and CUNY-wide.
Sincerely concerned undergraduate student,
Open Letter to the CUNY Community regarding the police violence
against Occupy Wall Street demonstrators on March 17th, 2012
Dear CUNY community,
Last Saturday, March 17th, hundreds of peaceful demonstrators convened in Zuccotti Park to celebrate the six month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. The gathering was joyous event, a reunion for many, filled with song, dance, a general assembly and lively conversation.
At around 11:30pm, with very little warning, hundreds of NYPD officers charged and violently dispersed the peaceful gathering, injuring many and arresting more than 70 people. Those arrested were thrown to the ground, many were beaten with clubs, I saw friends whose faces were stepped on by officers while being held down. One friend had his thumb broken and was bleeding from his ear. Another had two ribs broken. One OWS medic had his head smashed into a plate glass window by a police officer (this was captured on video by bystanders here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=82l2lxvvi-c&feature=related).
But perhaps the most horrific display of sheer malice, brutality and negligence of the NYPD was in their handling of New School student, 23 year old Cecily McMillan, who, after having been tackled and beaten by a group of police officers fell into a violent seizure (most likely triggered by the intense pain of having two ribs fractured by the police). I watched in horror as my friend Cecily, still in handcuffs, went into violent convulsions on the ground in the middle of Broadway. The police standing around initially did nothing to assist her, they did not even remove the handcuffs for the first few minutes. Dozens of licensed EMTs were on site, but the NYPD would not let them treat her. This is not only illegal, it is also a form of wanton negligence bordering on inhumanity. Cecily lost consciousness, her body went limp, and eventually a few officers were ordered to move her to the sidewalk, handling her clumsily. It was over ten minutes before an ambulance arrived (seen in video at minute 8:50 — the video starts well after the first full minute of Cecily’s seizure).
Video: (Trigger Warning: this video contains disturbing images of police violence): http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=An8OCm-Gl2U#!
After being discharged from Bellevue hospital, Cecily was taken to Midtown South Precinct and held in police custody until Monday afternoon, a full 40 hours after her violent arrest. Many other demonstrators were held for even longer hours. Now we find out that the courts have dropped nearly all the charges against the 70+ arrested on Saturday. This raises serious questions about the legality of the police raid. It also evidences what we’ve long known: that the small infractions which Occupiers are charged with are merely foils and pretexts for silencing our protest and violently suppressing dissent. Cecily herself is being charged with the more serious crime of assaulting an officer. Not only can this charge not be allowed to stand. We cannot stand for the direct assault against our civil liberties, our rights to protest, our friends, our bodies, our ideas, our desires and real efforts to build a better future.
Occupy Wall Street has been an entirely peaceful movement, yet it is repeatedly met with wanton police violence. The frightening pace of heightening militarization of the NYPD just this year is something that directly effects CUNY as a whole. These are the people that our administration allows to spy on Muslim student groups on our campuses. These are the people who Stop and Frisk CUNY students on their way to school everyday. These are the people who shot and killed the unarmed teenager, Ramarley Graham, this year in his home. These are the people who CUNY invited onto Baruch Campus to help violently suppress protests during the Board of Trustees meeting on November 21st.
OWS is now asking people to sign a petition demanding an independent investigation into the police brutality of Saturday night. To my mind this is a bear minimum: http://signon.org/sign/investigate-nypd-violence.fb1
We should also all take this opportunity to reflect on how the brutal suppression of a peaceful social movement affects all of our lives. We should hold meetings on our various campuses to collectively ask how we would respond if one of our own students was so brutally mistreated for voicing dissent. We should remember that this incident is in only the latest in a long litany of abuses and a long history of wanton violence and impunity. And we should at the very least call for the immediate resignation of Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.
I am under no illusion that Raymond Kelly’s resignation would solve all the problems of endemic racism, islamophobia, homophobia, sexism, impunity, negligence, and cruelty in the NYPD. But demanding this would at least send a strong and clear message that we as CUNY students and educators will not stand for it any longer.
Department of Anthropology, PhD student
CUNY Graduate Center
I considered this letter a success because I almost immediately got a response from you, through the Senior Director of the Office of Communications and Marketing, Jeremy Thompson on March 23, 2012:
Dear Ms. Salgado,
Thank you for bringing your concerns to President Gould’s attention. She asked me to respond on her behalf.
I assume your message refers to allegations that the NYPD engaged in covert surveillance of students at Brooklyn College. The college first became aware of the NYPD’s alleged monitoring activities last fall. At a meeting of the faculty council on September 13, 2011, President Gould made some brief remarks on the subject. Here is an excerpt:
The administration had no knowledge of this alleged undercover intelligence gathering nor any surveillance of our students, faculty, or staff. If these alleged activities did take place, we surely would not have been notified because we would have condemned them…. We do not in any way condone the alleged intrusion of the NYPD into campus life and, if true, we view this as a violation of freedom of expression and the constitutional rights of our students, faculty, and staff.
Despite the ongoing coverage and new allegations of surveillance by the NYPD, no new information related to Brooklyn College has been reported in recent months. All reports indicate that this covert surveillance occurred several years ago; we have no reason to believe the NYPD is actively engaged in surveillance on our campus at this time. The college is committed to upholding the constitutional rights of each and every member of our campus community and will make every effort to protect the privacy of our students, faculty, and staff.
The safety and security of our campus community is the responsibility of the Office of Campus and Community Safety Services under the direction of Donald Wenz. The number of peace officers employed by the college has not increased. While we communicate regularly with the NYPD about security issues in the neighborhoods surrounding our campus, they have no role in the oversight of security at the college, except in the event of an emergency.
I hope this provides you with assurance that President Gould shares your concerns and will continue working to ensure the safety, security, and constitutional rights of all students, faculty, and staff.
Jeremy Thompson, Senior Director
Office of Communications and Marketing
City University of New York
I admit this was very exciting, although cold and patronizing. I thought that maybe this was finally the beginning of a bridge between the Brooklyn College Student Union and you. I wrote Jeremy Thompson back and made sure to send you a copy of my response as well, because after all, I was trying to speak to you and not him: I don’t understand why someone who is concerned with marketing should address my concerns with police brutality… or maybe now I do. Anyhow, in this response I said I hoped we could actually meet in person because a lot of tone gets lost in email, and even now I agree.
This was on March 27th, 2012:
Dear President Gould and Mr. Thompson,
Thank you for taking the time to respond to my concerns.
I appreciate the statements given out by you, President Gould, in regards to NYPD surveillance of my Muslim classmates, and hope that you mean them with all your heart. It is only through internalizing this unforgivably racist and paranoid violation of their rights that we can all, as a college community, speak up against this injustice and adequately support the victims of this abuse- with some heart.
What I still find troubling about this response though, is that I have noticed new campus police staff and behaviors that were not present a year ago, even if you say that they are not there.
I am here to assure you as a committed, full-time student who spends a lot of time on campus, that I have empirical knowledge of the increased policing of students on our campus.
The one officer that distinctly stands out in my mind is this young man around my age. I am 26. The first reason he ever stood out to me was because he was wearing a bright blue jacket that read CAMPUS POLICE in white, bold letters.
No other officer has a jacket as nice, as new and as distinctly different as this one. He also likes to ride around the quad on a very nice, expensive bicycle on some evenings. That certainly stood out, because I commute on my bicycle since public transportation (much like my public education) is becoming criminally unaffordable, and also because it makes me feel good.
The second reason he stood out to me was because he is very, very nice. I mean genuinely nice, in that way a person is when they are not a repressive agent of the state. He’s very kind and helpful and smiles at you and you can’t help but really like the guy.
This brings me to another change that I have noticed in our campus police: the sudden barking and demanding of student ID’s after-hours at the Library Cafe. You see, I have a very heavy semester and spend a lot of great study time in the Library Cafe, sometimes until 3 am. I can bring food, study and write for hours without the distractions of my home. I am never alone and in fact feel encouraged by the other dedicated students around me. We’re all there so late at night, because we care about our thoughts and ambitions so much, we forgo our comfy homes, friends and family so we can do quality work. It is peaceful and awesome there… until about a month ago this campus officer interrupted my studies by barking “OK STUDENT IDs OUT!” Once would have been sufficient, so as to catch our attention, and if he was at all respectful of our work, he wouldn’t have yelled at all. He would have approached us by computer row and said at a regular level voice to show our IDs.
Furthermore, he stalked around and continued to bark for IDs and kick people out who did not have their IDs. He made an enormous show of it. I laid my ID out and continued to try to work. The man next to me had been dozing off and when the officer approached his computer, he banged on his desk with an empty soda bottle and yelled for his ID, to which I stood up to him and said
“This is not a correctional facility, this is a study space, do not treat us like criminals, we are students.” He tried to justify his actions by saying he had to wake this man up, and I said that he could have simply touched his shoulder, that he was rude and reminded him once again that we are not prisoners; we are students working in peace.
This has happened to me, in slight variations, several times since. Always a militant, aggressive and rude male officer. One time, it was that nice young campus police officer who came and politely asked us for IDs, and he was even talking to people and it was such a different experience.
So, what do I mean by all this whining? I mean to inform you that even if you tell me that something is not happening, I am telling you from down here, where student life happens, that I am living these situations. They are a part of my day and they are disturbing.
This piece of information from the “public” Board of Trustees meeting at Baruch College in November 2011 is also disturbing:
“G. (ADDED ITEM) THE CITY UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK – PURCHASE OF UNARMED SECURITY GUARD SERVICES:
RESOLVED, That the Board of Trustees of The City University of New York authorize the General Counsel to execute a contract on behalf of the University to purchase unarmed security guard services. The contract shall be awarded to the lowest responsive and responsible bidder after public advertisement and sealed bidding by the College pursuant to law and University regulations. The contract shall be available for use by the constituent colleges, and the total estimated annual cost shall not exceed $15,000,000, chargeable to the appropriate colleges’ FAS codes. The contract term shall be five (5) years, from January 2012 through December 2017. The contract shall be subject to approval as to form by the University Office of General Counsel.”
*The source of this information also believes that the “added item” of purchasing unarmed security, came after the Baruch campus police attacked the student protests that were taking place during the Board of Trustees Public Hearing on this very budget.
15 million dollars is a lot of money. It is enough money to make our school a free public institution that favors the community once again. Enough money to help my class mates, whose horrific stories of crippling student debt I heard about today on the quad at noon, during an event hosted by NYPRIG addressing the certain death of affordable public education. What I see happening here, President Gould, is something criminal. And it is ironic that the campus police should be the ones to treat us like we’re the crooks.
My one study safe space is now a ground for barking, repressive guards. The young new cop has a nicer, safer ride than me, and a nice new jacket, unlike the students that struggle to go to Brooklyn College and make ends meet. I see a weird trend forming, where some benefit and others clearly do not and this has lead me (thanks to this wonderful college and it’s encouragement of inquisitiveness and research) to seek some answers. One last thing I wanted to share with you and that I do hope you consider reading and passing along if you wish, is this great article I found on The Socialist Worker : http://socialistworker.org/2012/03/27/welcome-to-repress-u
Number 3, which talks about Muslim student surveillance luckily does not apply to our school anymore, but number 7. “Privatize, subsidize, and capitalize” really spoke to me and inspired me to write to you this evening. Once again I wish to ask you to please reconsider the role of the campus police, their relationship to the NYPD, the sudden lack of funding to our CUNY system, and the irrelevance and injury these 15 million dollar guards represent to my educational experience at Brooklyn College and beyond.
Thank you for your timely response and I certainly hope we can continue these conversations, preferably in person because so much tone and intent gets lost in simply emails.
That was the last time I wrote to you and I hadn’t heard from you since…. until this week on May 10th, 2012 when you sent an email to the entire student body, faculty and staff that was full of injury and untruths:
Dear students, faculty, and staff,
As I have stated on a number of occasions, Brooklyn College is committed to upholding the constitutional right to free speech of everyone on our campus. As President, it is also my responsibility to ensure the safety of our college community and to ensure that its members can pursue the essential work of the college.
As you may be aware, on Wednesday, May 2, a demonstration was held on our campus that resulted in the arrest of two students. Regrettably, some of those involved have chosen to misstate or ignore the facts in order to advance their agenda. I write you today to correct the record.
Some days prior to May 2, the college became aware, through a variety of Internet sources, of plans to hold a large demonstration on our campus for students from across New York City. At no time did the students, faculty, or organizations responsible for coordinating the demonstration activities of May 2 approach the college to discuss their plans. Without any notice regarding the demonstrators’ plans or the numbers of individuals who might come to our campus, we increased the number of peace officers assigned to campus entrances and took appropriate measures to safeguard our students, faculty, and staff.
Once underway, the demonstration proceeded peacefully and without incident on the central quad, much like similar events held over the past several months. However, when signaled by a banner unfurled from the fourth floor of Boylan Hall, approximately 40-50 protesters rushed into the building and up to the second floor, chanting loudly, yelling profanities, and eventually blocking access to the hallway and nearby offices. After ignoring repeated requests from peace officers to clear a path to all entrances, including the Office of the President, the demonstrators were escorted down the hall and out of the building.
As the crowd was exiting at the direction of public safety personnel, one of the protestors reportedly pushed a peace officer to the floor. She sustained several injuries. For this reason, the protestor was placed under arrest. A second protestor refused to leave the hallway and, according to the incident report, deliberately attempted to prevent officers from escorting the crowd out of the building; she was also arrested. It is the responsibility of the district attorney’s office, not the college, to determine how these cases will proceed.
Contrary to some misinformed accounts, at no time during the demonstration on May 2 did officers from the NYPD enter our campus. Due to information available online, the NYPD, of its own accord, placed officers outside our campus gates. Moreover, no peace officers or other personnel on our campus used pepper spray, batons, or riot cuffs, as alleged.
Based upon the video that I and other staff members have viewed, and based upon reports from personnel on the scene, I am confident that our peace officers took appropriate action to ensure the safety of our campus, including the safety of those involved in the demonstration, and to maintain access to hallways, offices, and classrooms. If specific allegations to the contrary come to light, we will conduct an immediate review.
Regarding the larger issues associated with this and other recent student demonstrations, I have said publicly and in writing that I share the concerns of many students and faculty about the regrettable reductions to public higher education in recent years, which have resulted in an increase in tuition costs for students and their families. At Brooklyn College, we have been and are taking a number of steps to ensure that our neediest students are not negatively affected. I discussed these and other relevant issues in my recent State of the College Address [http://www.brooklyn.cuny.edu/web/about/administration/president/address/2012spring.php], which I encourage you to read. In it, I report on a number of budgetary initiatives and on a new financial assistance program for needy students that we will carry out at the campus level, the details of which will be announced later this month.
To reiterate, the college is committed to supporting free speech on campus. This does not mean, however, that an individual or group of individuals may impede the rights of others to perform their duties and pursue their studies. In order to work together as an educational community, the rights of everyone at Brooklyn College need to be respected so that we can fulfill the essential activities and responsibilities of our core mission.
The non-violent but high-energy student convergence “ Create Access to Education” that that took place on May 2nd 2012 at Brooklyn College was not some kind of secret plot that campus security uncovered through the mysteries of the internet. We put flyers all over campus. We talked to teachers and staff about it openly. We went to other campuses and talked to them about it openly. We worked extremely hard to create a day that would have inspirational speakers, teach-ins, music, food and conversations- in other words, the school we envision and strive to create access to. We had letters of support from two great thinkers, Naomi Klein and Noam Chomsky- people who we are assigned to read in class told us they supported our action! We drew inspiration from the May Day Free University that had taken place the day before in Madison Square Park, where a gathering of academics and surrounding community members engaged in a free, quality and democratic education for a day.
The agenda we were advancing was one that seeks to relentlessly address your negligence, and that of Chancellor Goldstein, The Board of Trustees, this entire city, the state of New York, and our entire country. Our agenda is to join with the voices of students from all over the world that are resisting privatization and violence, from Quebec to Chile to Iran, we are all resisting forces that deliberately seek to harm us. Although our realities are considerably different, it is clear that this is no coincidence: students of the world are rising to contest the implicit violence in being denied an education, and the explicit violence that erupts in a police state when people resist oppression. Our agenda was to place ourselves under the elusive line of your vision, with body and voice, so that maybe finally you might speak to us.
Our profanities were songs and chants about justice and injustice too. Our profanity was the voice of my concerned sister asking you why you allowed Muslims to be spied on. Our profanity was the stories of people who are almost destitute because of student loans. Our profanity was the voices of teachers and staff that also experience negligence and violence, and who actually care about us, the students, who in turn care about them too.
We are not “protesters”, we are your student body and staff, and we are with you every single day. If you do not know some of us, it’s because you have not taken the time to know us or because you don’t know other students from other CUNY campuses. The people present on the second floor of Boylan Hall on May 2nd, 2012 were all a valuable part academia and the community. The people documenting the acts of police brutality were press and they were, in essence, impartial to our actions since their job is solely to document; they were not actively protesting. If you believe in freedom of speech, like you feel the need to mention twice in your email after condoning the violence we experienced at the hands of campus security but also NYPD (my arresting officer was from the Bronx and was annoyed that she was brought from the outside to our campus. Cops like to gossip and talk about themselves you know), then you might also choose to disregard the press as “protesters”. I am thankful they were there to document the real outsiders, the ones who play no role in our academic lives: the cops. They are the others and they are coming in the way of the performance of my duties, studies and safety.
We are not strangers, so please do not devalue us buy being reductive and calling us mere protesters. We are this campus and our sister campuses too. Please stop acting like you don’t know us, like you don’t care about us, like you don’t need us. I am profoundly disappointed by the impossibility of ever communicating in any sort of horizontal and respectful manner with the leader of my school. I wanted to speak with a person and instead I am shunned by an icon.
I am going to end this letter by watching the sunrise over my hometown and explaining to you how I was arrested 20 feet from the door of your office on May 2nd, 2012 after months of trying to communicate with you. After the Brooklyn College Student Union created a letter and petition and sat through a Faculty Council meeting over one month ago, just to ensure that you received said letter. After we gathered over one thousand signatures asking for basic changes that would alleviate the scalding condition of our tuition hikes and personally delivering them to your secretary. After months of my one-way monologue with your phantom email, I was arrested near your doorstep because I laid down.
President Gould, I laid down. When I was asked if I needed medical attention, I said I needed the police to stop beating up my friends. Because of this I was dragged by one arm, because I laid down and decided to let my body go. I gave myself to your security, President Gould. I let them handle me the way you empowered them to. They stopped dragging me (I had closed my eyes, I have no idea who was doing what until I was in the cop van), they put my hands behind my back and it was then that I understood that my friends and I would not be heard, that I was a target, that I was now a criminal. For laying down.
The first cuff was put with such force it broke my skin and made me scream. I had naively thought that my non-violence would signal the cops to treat me non-violently. They dragged and carried me in a number of ridiculous and painful ways. They bruised my underarms. I had a contusion on my left shin. I also have pictures of my injuries. When we were out on the quad, I was handled in such a way I thought they were going to dislocate my shoulders. I screamed in pain. Violence and abuse resounds deeply in me, but oddly enough all of this gave me a strange peace. My body was not okay, but my insides were humming and warm. I let go, let go of everything. I let go of all the blood, pain and apathy I have witnessed this season. I let go of all the people who have ever harmed me. I let go of all my stuff, my bills, my “life”, my greed. I embraced the unknown and took comfort in what I did know: that any violence I experienced from this moment on, in contrast to my quiet, limp body, was a reflection of the state, was a reflection of you.
As for my brother Eric Carlsen, I am hesitant to mention him out of respect as well as the profound desire to protect him from any more injury and lies. He was a beacon of calm and kindness while we were in jail those first few hours. He is a peaceful soul, a father, a scholar, a person with the beautiful calling to make things grow from the earth. I stand in full support and solidarity with Eric, and will not be remotely appeased until he is shown justice and all of his charges fully dropped.
I am now free, because true justice and community prevail. I let go of so much and gained even more. I experienced what I had suspected for some time now: the plump artery the NYPD has inside CUNY. Tiny capillaries from all corners of our student lives, trickling down this circuit, into the open mouth of a mill that generates unbelievable revenue, which is jail and the whole injustice system. I watched it eat entire lives whole. Now I know. Now you know too.
President Gould, the sun is rising. It is spring. The world is gorgeous. Life is larger than all this pettiness and love is the greatest labor of all. It’s always and forever worth fighting for.
In peace & truth,
Brooklyn College Student Union