On Oct. 17, participants in an anti-debt protest organized by the Socialist Alternative faced the unexpected arrival of security guards and New York Police Department officers who checked for CUNY IDs at the main gate and patrolled the campus.
Starting from the Quad — near Powdermaker Hall — protestors walked around campus chanting slogans such as “No loans! No fees! Education should be free,” while being followed by security. By voicing their discontent on student debt, the protestors hoped to get other disgruntled students on their side.
“This is a fruitful phase of the struggle. Repression doesn’t stop it, but strengthens it,” said Desmond Lyons, Queens College student and member of the organization and a protestor, in reference to the extra security.
Inside the dining hall, Lyons spoke to QC students about his student debt, which stands at $25,000 accumulated over the past three years. Voicing his frustration that he was unable to receive financial aid and on the for-profit education system, he told students to take a stand against the injustice of student debt.
According to the Project on Student Debt, 45 percent of QC students graduated in 2010 with student debt averaging a total of $17,700. Students feel the burden of tuition hikes along with a sluggish economy still under recovery.
The group immediately felt the impact of the police presence as one of their lead organizers was arrested for trespassing. Also, students from other college campuses were barred from joining the protest.
“Members of the QC community have a right to protest and we respect that as long as they follow the Henderson Rules. We do not welcome people who are not of the QC community to come here and protest,” said Pedro Pineiro, head of public safety.
The Henderson Rules define the CUNY rules and regulations for the maintenance of public order on campus, which require all students to adhere to the rules, set by the college, for the general safety of people on campus. Non-compliance, as outlined on CUNY’s website, may lead to a wide array of penalties, including but not limited to “admonition, warning, censure, disciplinary probation, restitution, suspension, expulsions, ejection and/or arrest by the civil authorities.”
“These protestors were coming to support our cause and to fight for free education for all CUNY students. The fact that they were barred from supporting us and making our demonstration more successful shows CUNY’s dedication to silencing their own students,” said Diana Lutzak, a non-CUNY student.
Lutzak lead the group with chants and slogans and detailed the frustrations with the police presence, CUNY ID checks, student debt and the role of the for-profit education system.
As the protesters walked around campus, they were approached and joined by some students who showed interest.
Socialist Alternative wished to meet with President James Muyskens on the fourth floor of Kiely Hall. However, they were told by security to turn around because classes were in session and they did not want them to disturbed with the group’s chants. One security guard handed a paper to the group detailing the rules and regulations of the campus.
“We’re fighting back against the system. The arrival of the cops only reinforced that idea,” sophomore and Socialist Alternative member, Shamari Stewart said.
Reporting contributed by Aliza Chasan