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New York: City College Student Activist Court Case Begins Oct. 27

by staff |
October 28, 2008
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New York, NY - On October 27, former student activists from the City College of New York (CCNY) will seek justice in a lawsuit dating back to a series of incidents in 1998. A jury in the courtroom of Federal Judge Thomas Griesa will decide if former CCNY President Yolanda Moses acted illegally in nullifying the results of a student government election that a slate of student activists had won.

President Moses claimed that she nullified the results of the student government election because she thought that the 'election edition' of the CCNY Messenger, a progressive student newspaper, was biased toward the students' slate, and therefore constituted illegal campaign materials.

The students strongly dispute that the election edition of the Messenger was biased. They also hold that even if it had favored their slate, it shouldn't have resulted in the nullifying of the student election, because student newspapers have the right to endorse candidates in student elections. This has been upheld repeatedly in the courts.

Retaliation

The students – Brad Sigal, Ydanis Rodriguez and David Suker – argue that President Moses used the student newspaper as an excuse, but that her real reason for canceling the election they had won was retaliation for having exposed other repressive actions taken by the CCNY administration.

Just before Moses canceled the elections, Sigal, Rodriguez and Suker had filed a lawsuit against President Moses for installing a surveillance camera system hidden in a fake smoke detector to spy on everyone entering the main activist center at CCNY, the Morales-Shakur Center. Many student and community activist groups use the Morales-Shakur Center for their meetings. After discovering the secret spying, the students alerted the press and filed a civil rights lawsuit. It was just days later that President Moses nullified the student government elections that the students bringing the lawsuit had won the month before.

These 1998 incidents happened in the context of working class and oppressed nationality students fighting to maintain their access to higher education at the City University of New York (CUNY), of which City College is the flagship campus in Harlem. At the time, New York City Mayor Giuliani and Governor Pataki led an attack on access to education at CUNY. In response CUNY students organized a broad and militant fight back to maintain equal access to education at CUNY. Incidents of repression against CUNY student activists didn't just happen at City College, but also at other CUNY campuses including Hunter, the College of Staten Island, John Jay, and Hostos Community College.

Context of Struggle at CUNY

The City University of New York (CUNY) is not like most universities. Spread throughout 17 campuses around New York City's five boroughs, CUNY has around 200,000 students. The majority of CUNY students are from working class and poor families; the majority of students are oppressed nationalities.

CUNY hasn't always been that way – in 1969 the few Black and Puerto Rican students that were at City College, with support from the surrounding community in Harlem, took over campus buildings demanding that CUNY adopt ‘open admissions’ to give New York’s Black and Puerto Rican high school students access to college. This became known as the Open Admissions Strike.

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