Thoughts, Goals, and Bibliography on the War in Gaza and Police Brutality on American Campuses by the FI Fellows for Palestine

This reflection has been written by a few of the Graduate Fellows at the Futures Initiative, and thus does not reflect the official position of Futures Initiative, the staff, or all of the FI Fellows.

On April 30th at around 8 pm, the NYPD blockaded City College campus, denying students, faculty, and public access to this state-funded, public university. The police then began to disperse onlookers and arrest protestors, so that around midnight, they could sweep through the CUNY Gaza Solidarity Encampment and infringe upon the protestor’s first amendment rights. The NYPD systematically removed the students, faculty, and legal observers, arresting many and using out-of-service MTA buses to transport the protestors to be charged. Several students reported being “moved by batons,” and pepper sprayed, along with other reported injuries1. This choice was, according to the statement by CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez, “something to be done only as a last recourse.”2 Specifically, the Chancellor notes that the choice to invite police onto CCNY campus was “taken in response to specific and repeated acts of violence and vandalism, not in response to peaceful protest,” and details an account of non-CUNY vandals who stormed Shepard Hall and the Administration Building, causing property damage and havoc, and supposedly leaving behind bags which, “contained chains, flares, a bolt cutter and box cutters.”

The CCNY occupation happened at a moment when occupations were being organized by students in many different campuses around the US – the first one being the Columbia encampment, only a few blocks away from CCNY. As we are seeing these encampments spreading across more western universities, we are also witnessing police violence being unleashed to suppress them, once again provoking feelings of impotence and frustration regarding the use of this old repressive formula. 

As CUNY students and FI Fellows, we, the FI Fellows for Palestine, thought about sharing a statement about the use of police force towards students, as several departments have done these past weeks. However, when raising this idea during our weekly team meeting, some FI Fellows mentioned that statements, while important, sometimes fall short of actually doing something transformative. Some suggested compiling a list of resources that would be useful to those trying to understand the situation. Another fellow added that sharing questions that stem from the situation might be a rich approach – and we agreed that this approach would resonate with Paulo Freire’s pedagogy of the question as an act of radical pedagogy as well as with FI’s commitment to transformative pedagogy. Continuing, we will try to reflect collectively about interrogations we have regarding the CCNY solidarity campus and the decision to use police force to crush it.

Why are protests and encampments in solidarity with Gaza being organized and spreading on college campuses currently? 

Since October 7th, when Hamas led a terrorist attack against civilians and the State of Israel, the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) responded with a mass bombing campaign throughout Palestine and with the invasion of Gaza. Since then, more than 35.000 Palestinian civilians have been killed, with differentiated and dramatic effects for women, children and elderly populations. The infrastructure of the Palestinian territory has been heavily damaged and destroyed, leaving only 11 of 35 hospitals working and with around 70% of school buildings being totally leveled. With Israel’s later attack on Rafah, where more than 1.5 million Palestinians were told to evacuate to and are now packed into overcrowded refugee camps, the protest movement in the West accelerated. Students, who had been strongly organizing around campuses and universities, started to establish solidarity encampments to disrupt the “business as usual” atmosphere that most universities had carried on, despite interventions in public meetings, demands to the democratic organs of the institutions. demonstrations, and protests. Meanwhile, more and more voices from civil society, such as various country representatives from the United Nations, have called for a ceasefire, in an attempt to stop what Francesca Albanese, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, has defined as “reasonable grounds to believe that the threshold indicating the commission of the crime of genocide…has been met”.3

A History of CUNY and its commitment to the NYC Urban Community

To many New Yorkers, CUNY represents New York’s premiere public university system. Through its advertisements in Time Square, signage on the subway, and billboards throughout the city, CUNY stands as a beacon of an accessible, open, and welcoming education through its various campuses around the city. Students at City College, which is located in close proximity to Columbia University, where the first US solidarity encampment was installed, were inspired by the actions taken by their colleagues and began protesting the violence in Palestine in their own way. However, The chancellor’s statement, which repeatedly notes that many of the protestors, over 60% according to the NYPD’s arrests, were not affiliated with CCNY, seems to imply that individuals from the NYC community have no right to access CUNY. 

This is fundamentally untrue. CUNY was founded with “the strongest commitment to the special needs of an urban constituency”, according to Article 125, Section 6201 of the New York Legislature’s educational laws, EDN § 6201, which established the CUNY system. The law continues, stating that “The university must remain responsive to the needs of its urban setting.” The law also enshrines CUNY’s “vital importance as a vehicle for the upward mobility of the disadvantaged in the city of New York” and specifically notes, “the pioneering efforts of the SEEK and College Discovery programs” which “must not be diminished.”4  Fundamentally, CUNY’s commitment to this city’s denizens and the preservation of their rights, including the right to speech and to congregate, are enshrined in this state’s laws. The taxes paid by all City residents (including those who may never access higher education), some of the highest in the nation, are directed back to CUNY, should this not entitle residents to their usage and benefence? 

It is not coincidental that SEEK is highlighted here in CUNY’s establishment, as its preservation is a direct result of a similar protest effort by CUNY students and faculty. The College Discovery and SEEK programs “provide comprehensive academic, financial, and social support to assist capable students who otherwise might not be able to attend college due to their educational and financial circumstances.” and their shared mission “is to assist in providing equality of higher education to students who otherwise would not have such access. Program efforts are intended to increase the level of education, social capital, and workforce expertise in our City and State.” In February of 1969, austerity measures by the state threatened to eliminate SEEK, leading to a student-activist-led movement, known as the Five Demands5, championed by the Black and Puerto Rican Student Community, these demands were as follows:

  1. A separate school of Black and Puerto Rican studies.
  2. A separate orientation program for Black and Puerto Rican freshmen.
  3. A voice for SEEK students in the setting of all guidelines for the SEEK Program, including the hiring and firing of all personnel.
  4. The racial composition of all entering classes should reflect the Black and Puerto Rican population of New York City high schools.
  5. That Black and Puerto Rican history and Spanish language be a requirement for all education majors.

Critically, the student protestors took over campus for two weeks, preventing students from attending class, coincidentally also at the end of April, presumably during the pre-Finals rush. And most importantly, there are key learnings regarding the response of CUNY’s administration and city authorities. One aspect to consider, is that at the time, the then President of CCNY, Buell G. Gallagher started working with the protestors to build a path towards the implementation of their demands at City College, and the wider CUNY system. Gallagher heard his student’s demands for social justice and change, and tried to prevent escalation. However, negotiations first failed and occupations started to spread to several other CUNY campuses (CCNY, Brooklyn College, Queens College, and Borough of Manhattan Community College)6. New York City police were called and forcefully intervened to expel students from the university buildings. Students detained at Brooklyn College were charged with felonies, just as CUNY students arrested at CCNY in 2024 were. However, student solidarity and mobilization was not stopped by this demonstration of force and retaliation – a boycott of classes organized by Black and Latino students, quickly supported by White students kept the disruption ongoing. Eventually, CUNY’s central administration and city authorities had to respond to students’ demands, with the protestor receiving support from both the then Chancellor and Mayor, leading to some of the most profound and admirable changes to the institution – such as the implementation of Open Admissions in 1970 – 5 years earlier than originally proposed – and the establishment of CCNY’s Urban and Ethnic Studies program in the Fall of 1969. The felony charges against student protestors were also dropped. 

What are the students’ 5 demands today and how do they connect to 1969 demands?

Directly invoking the 1969 Five Demands, CUNY for Palestine and the CUNY Gaza Solidarity Encampment have helpfully presented their demands in a 5-point bulleted list:

  1.  Divest!: CUNY must immediately and completely divest from companies that produce weapons and technology used for zionist settler-colonial violence. Ensure accountability by publishing annual reports of CUNY’s investments and contracts. 
  2.  Boycott!: Ban all academic trips to the Zionist state; encompassing- birthright, Fulbright, and perspective trips. Cancel all forms of cooperation with Israeli academic institutions, including events, activities, agreements, and research collaborations. 
  3.  Solidarity!: CUNY must recognize the right, enshrined in international law, of colonized peoples to resist their colonizers including by armed means, while also ending its repression and retaliation against organizers who speak out in support of this right at CUNY.  
  4.  Demilitarize!: NYPD, KKK, IOF they’re all the same – get them off our campuses! We demand that CUNY end its security memorandum of understanding with the NYPD and eject all IOF and NYPD officers from our campuses. 
  5. A People’s CUNY!: CUNY was free and fully funded for over 125 years. We demand a fully-funded, free CUNY that is not beholden to zionist and imperialist private donors, as well as that CUNY meet all the demands for a fair contract made by the Professional Staff Congress (PSC CUNY);7

The Chancellor’s statement invokes Rule 3 of the Henderson Rules, which govern protests at CUNY, and specifies that the “Unauthorized occupancy of University/college facilities or blocking access to or from such areas is prohibited” – and yet, the use of force to remove the protestors seemingly violates Rule 1, which states, “A member of the academic community shall not intentionally obstruct and/or forcibly prevent others from the exercise of their rights” as well as Rule 5, “Each member of the academic community or an invited guest has the right to advocate his position without having to fear abuse, physical, verbal, or otherwise” as well as noting that these members “shall not use language or take actions reasonably likely to provoke or encourage physical violence by demonstrators, those demonstrated against, or spectators.”8 In light of the countless protests against police brutality that have occurred nationwide in the past few years, not to mention the recent 13 million dollar settlements against the NYPD for their abuses against protestors during the summer of 20209, it is puzzling that the invitation extended to the NYPD to disrupt the CUNY Gaza Solidarity Encampment was not seen as a direct provocation of violence, given CCNY’s status as a Hispanic-Serving Institution10 and a majority-minority university. 

Students involved in the organization of the solidarity encampment have a deep understanding of the history of CUNY, and intentionally inscribed their action in a genealogy of social justice and internationalist struggles. The clear evocation of the 5 Demands is more than rhetorical, as it is also spatial – CCNY was picked among the 27 CUNY campuses not only for its proximity to Columbia but also for its symbolic capital, as the campus holds geographies and histories of resistance that the students sought to reactivate. The demands are also inscribed in the BDS Campaign (Boycott, Divest, Sanction), an organization that has been fighting for many years to pressure Israel to end the oppression of Palestinians and colonization of Palestinian land. These methods also openly connect to the international anti-apartheid movement in support of the South African liberation Movement. Palestinian liberation leaders were historically supportive of this cause, as well as US based liberation movements such as the Black Panthers and the Young Lords, both historically very important in Harlem and Washington Heights, where coincidentally CCNY and Columbia campuses are located.

Finally, it is fundamental to understand how the last demand connects so strongly with the current mobilization against the ongoing war and genocide. Reclaiming a people’s university, affirming that public higher education should be free, and that universities should never have become financial and capitalist tools is directly linked to the first demand.  Universities are territorializing institutions – they are crucial actors of their territory through the training they offer to students, through the research and relationship they establish with the communities they belong to, and through the spatial environments they create through investment and infrastructure. However, they have also been increasingly important financial actors, engaging in shaping domestic and distant localities through a portfolio of investment. Students have been increasingly burdened by the weight of the loans they have to take in order to complete their higher education, an issue that might seem separated from the war in Gaza, but in fact happens to be absolutely tied together – as student tuitions in part fund these investments by the university. While this discussion has become central in the USA, it is unsurprising that students now not only demand to know where their universities are investing the funds collected through tuition, but that they also demand to have a voice in these investment decisions. Many LSE students in London, for instance, have started looking into the investment portfolio of their institution, demanding divestment from companies with ties to the ongoing war – and have now expanded their demands to include other conflicts such as environmental damage and contamination.11 These LSE students, through their actions and demands, highlight their understanding of liberation, social and environmental justice as fully intertwined, interrogating the constant fragmentation of reality and the feeling of impotence it produces. A people’s university, welcoming all regardless of their income or legal status, free of tuition, should not be used as a tool to fund wars of environmentally harmful extractivism.

What does the encampment at CCNY symbolize? (and why is it important to protect it?)

Picking the place of an occupation is a central part of any resistance strategy, and we should feel happy and proud that universities and higher education institutions, particularly public ones, have been chosen by the students organizing these protests. We should feel happy that the students welcome people from outside the university to join them in their activities, exhibiting their understanding of the public university campus as a place for common good- a place from where they can build coalitions with people from different walks of life. These students are not entrapped in a logic of segregation and refuse to get caught in the academic ivory tower and the sense of superiority it projects. The decision to protest and organize encampments on public university campuses means that the students see campuses as spaces of collective appropriation, territories that they consider key to challenging the status quo and transforming the world. Students should feel safe on campus, and by forcing them, through the use of police brutalization, out of one of the few “third spaces” that has ever existed in their lives, we run the risk of forcing students to mobilize outside of the safety of their universities. If students are made to feel unsafe to protest on campus, where they can learn important skills about organizing and activism, where else do we expect them to go?

As we have said, students have shown impressive organizing skills in the last few months. Some examples include: coordinating protests and artistic interventions such as die-ins or sit-ins, teaching public classes on the occupation of Palestine and international solidarity, intervening in their institution’s assemblies and board meetings, and organizing student representatives for each democratic body of their institution. Columbia journalism students have been praised for their impressive covering of the encampment and its violent dismantlement. Through these actions, students have shown remarkable critical thinking and capacity to understand and leverage the limits of university governance creatively. And in each instance, they have been ignored or worse, silenced. Through the encampments, they once again demonstrated wonderful strategic skills in which they had to solve complex logistical problems, secure basic infrastructure for consistent encampment functioning (i.e., sanitary installations, food supplies, constant presence, funding, legal advice, creative and pedagogic activities), and coordinate with many different actors and stakeholders. The solidarity across space and time, across hierarchies (many faculty members and administrators have shown to the encampments and shown strong support) and constant communication with other campuses proves that other ways of doing academia can be shaped with imagination. 

With all this said, we are left concerned as to what methods are left for students to make their voices heard. Many of the established avenues (like protesting outside of administrative meetings and calling representatives) have been used with little to no success and denial of dialogue – despite the student’s work enacting both a true exercise of critical thinking, but also of radical democracy. One thought may be to rethink how policing and protest are handled within CUNY.

In many parts of the world, such as Argentina and other countries of Latin America, the police are currently not allowed to enter campuses, due to the violence, torture and kidnapping of students that took place under the previous dictatorships. What would a police-free CUNY, or even a CUNY with a lighter police presence, look like? Historically, universities worldwide have been places where students have courageously organized to resist authoritarianism and to demand for the people’s rights, engaging in national liberation struggles and international solidarity. It is from the University of Chile that students and professors tried to resist the coup against Allende in Chile in 1973, it is also at the public university that Victor Jara was detained to be later tortured and killed by the military. It is from the universities that the movement of May 68 started in France to then expand to factories as a working class general strike that would result in deep transformations of the social and political order of the country as well as of the education system. The massive protests against the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement also spread from the student’s mobilization on their campuses, here in the US. Most of these movements were met with resistance from the authorities of the institutions, and violence from the state through the intervention of the police.  

We know today that these struggles could not be disrupted and that the violent interventions only delayed the outcome. Eventually, the world caught up to the demands of its students: Latin American dictators were defeated and some were jailed from crimes against humanity; Victor Jara remains a symbol of the free people around the world; De Gaulle, then-president of France during May 1968, ended up resigning; and the US had to withdraw from Vietnam. Universities, through the generations of students fighting and dreaming of better futures, have become the infrastructure of international solidarity and hope, not only through academic training but also through what abolitionist Ruth Wilson Gilmore calls “life in rehearsal.” 

The mistreatment of students at the hands of the NYPD at CCNY comes on the heels of similar crackdowns on student protests at other institutions, such as the similar encampments at Columbia, NYU, and Fordham.12 Critically different here, however, is that CUNY is and always will be a public institution – and thus carries a higher standard of public accessibility and demonstration, putting the CCNY response more on par with UCLA. Comparatively, some of the dispersals tactics employed at these other universities have been much more violent than the tactics employed at CCNY – the UCLA protestors were shot with rubber bullets, and there was an incident, admitted by the NYPD, of an officer discharging his weapon, allegedly accidentally, in Columbia’s Hamilton Hall13. The list of national instances of this pattern of college protest and campus-sanctioned police violence grows daily, as the students continue their desperate efforts to be heard by faculty and administrators.

How can we use the events surrounding the CCNY encampment to imagine a brighter future for CUNY?

As one of the longest standing institutions in this country with an unwavering dedication to social justice and progress, it falls upon us at CUNY to do our part to stop postponing justice for the residents of all cities, from Rafah to NYC. As members of the Futures Initiative, we, the FI Fellows for Palestine, want to build on the passion and creativity of our program and invite CUNY’s administration and community to reject the brutalization of students and faculty, including those from the Graduate Center. 

On Tuesday, May 5th, 2024, students occupied the Graduate Center, demanding once again for CUNY’s administration to hear their 5 demands and adding a demand to drop the felony charges against students detained at CCNY encampment. The GC administration decided to hear the students and negotiate – successfully finding a common ground without escalation from either side. Students agreed to evacuate the building, while the GC interim president Josh Brumberg guaranteed that there would be no disciplinary retaliation. The results of the negotiations were summed up in an email to CUNY Chancellor Félix Matos Rodríguez, in which Josh Brumberg asked the Chancellor to receive a representative of the student’s movement to present their demands directly to the leadership. We think these preliminary agreements highlight a positive strategy for the CUNY administration to affirm their commitment to students’ freedom of speech, and support future attempts at organizing and participating in the institution of democracy, while encouraging transparency. Once again, we also see how local authorities seem to understand the demand of their students better and are more willing to engage in negotiations than higher leadership, who are significantly more removed from the campus and perhaps less in touch with student organizations. How different would the situation be if leadership was more decentralized and grounded in the different realities of CUNY’s campuses?

We believe that the CUNY administration would greatly benefit from listening to its students and fostering safe spaces for these students to speak out against the criminal reality of the war, while imagining better futures for everyone involved. We believe that, like the campus occupation and conception of the original 5 demands in 1969, there are many meaningful strategies for students to transform their institutions for the better. The encampments formed across various CUNY campuses and the disruption they create encourage students to work towards creating a new world where higher education is fundamentally opposed to colonization, war and genocide.  So, how can we use the events surrounding the building and dismantling of the encampment to imagine a brighter future for CUNY? Firstly, we can build off the teaching that is already happening inherently as part of these protests. We have already noted the ways in which the encampment provides practical training for activists, and teach-ins have been a mainstay effort of CUNY professors and adjunct instructors for years now – but there are untapped ways of drawing from this student-led movement into the actual structures of our university system. For years now, forces on the extreme right have been training paramilitary groups with actual tanks and maneuvers – actively preparing to initiate their antidemocratic views by force.14 Why do we not see this massive engagement from students in activism and nonviolent intervention as an opportunity to train future leaders? We already have institutions like John Jay, a school of criminal justice at CUNY, and many campuses have some form of pre-law or criminal justice tracks. Why not create or revitalize new majors in restorative justice or urban activism?  Why are there not more student internships and training in nonviolent intervention and negotiation?  Nationwide, students clearly want their voices to be heard and their concerns answered – why are we not more concerned with addressing their needs than policing their behaviors? 

What can you do to support protestors at CUNY?

  If you feel for these residents of a war-torn country, or agree with our understanding of what a free and public CUNY means, you should consider signing this Statement of Solidarity written by the CUNY Gaza Solidarity Encampment. As our blog is read and supported by many faculty and administrators who might not otherwise see such a statement or hear our students’ voices as clearly, we believe it is paramount that those with the power to actuate change at the highest levels of CUNY listen to these voices. In closing, even if you take the least charitable view of these earnest and passionate attempts at communication by the protestors, and view the events of May 30th as a riot, we wish to remind you of the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.

“I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention”

If you’d like to learn more about this issue, we have produced a curated list of informative sources below, along with links for direct, personal aid to those most keenly affected by the war in Gaza:

Linktree for Operation Olivebranch, a social-media driven, grassroots collective organizing for aid to Gaza: 

Linktree for CUNY4Palestine, with a variety of CUNY related links and ways to get involved in the struggle: 

Students of Columbia covering the students encampment at Columbia:

The CUNY Gaza Solidarity Encampment’s official instagram: 

“A Difficult Decision” statement by CUNY Chancellor, Félix V. Matos Rodríguez: 

Left Voices article on the CUNY Encampment (written prior to the events of April 30th): 

semi-regular updates from ABC News on the nationwide College Protest movement: 

CUNY Commons page on the 5 Demands, made by May Nichols at CCNY: 

Article on the CCNY President’s defense of his decision to use police force at the encampment:

Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and the Jewish Law Students Association (JLSA), City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law, “Inherently Expressive”: BDS Organizing for Palestinian Liberation at CUNY School of Law and Beyond, 26 CUNY L. Rev. 67 (2023). 


  1. Day of account taken from CCNY’s The Campus report on the event, “NYPD shuts down CUNY Gaza Solidarity Encampment at City College,“ May 1st, url: ↩︎
  2.  Full statement: 
  3. ↩︎
  5. You can also watch the excellent documentary The Five Demands, which was projected last semester at the GC and in different CUNY’s installations:
  7. Demands taken from the CUNY for Palestine resolution presented to the Graduate Council at the Graduate Center, CUNY, on May 8th. Text can be seen here: ↩︎
  8. ↩︎
  9. ↩︎
  11. ↩︎
  12. ↩︎
  13. ↩︎
  14. As detailed in Lauren Lassabe Shepherd’s book Resistance from the Right:
    Conservatives and the Campus Wars in Modern America


The Futures Initiative
The Graduate Center, CUNY
365 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10016-4309