Former CCNY student activist Rosalind McLymont was a panelist at the event. Photo: Natalie Sanchez

“The Five Demands” Screening Spotlights SEEK and CUNY Activists

4 mins read

On March 20th in the Benjamin S. Rosenthal Library auditorium, QC SEEK screened “The Five Demands” — a documentary about the 1969 student protests at the City College of New York (CCNY) for greater Afro-American and Puerto Rican representation in the student population — and discussed the possibility of the SEEK Program being cut due to divestment from CUNY.

The SEEK Program, Rosenthal Library, and the CUNY Rising Alliance sponsored the screening event to raise awareness of the harms of the city’s historic divestment from CUNY on students. The event underlined the decades-long struggle for progressive change within CUNY.

In 1966, the Search for Education, Elevation and Knowledge sought to increase admissions of students of color at CCNY. When budget cuts threatened to eliminate SEEK and freeze non-SEEK admissions, thousands of students of color went on strike. After violent clashes with the NYPD, who opposed students and faculty, the students were victorious with the enactment of the “open admissions” policy, according to the documentary.

“Despite major changes since the 1960s, the struggle for equality in higher education continues,” said Annie Tummino, Rosenthal Library’s head of special collections and archives.

Programs like SEEK, which “are often targeted for cuts or even elimination,” continue to play a role in helping students of color from public high schools succeed in college, Tummino told The Knight News.

“The Five Demands” championed the legacy of the SEEK Program and of former POC student associations who were involved in campus activism. Echoing this, in recent months SEEK members have expressed frustration with CUNY’s budget slashes as it affects the program.

QC faculty and staff members are lobbying for a more progressive funding package that will sustain student programs. Reveena Ramotar, QC’s Navitas program coordinator and academic advisor, said in a letter to the New York State Assembly, “With the [SEEK] program’s rich history developing since 1966, this program has given students like myself a voice to be able to be a part of a diverse community that has made a huge impact on students’ lives and academic journeys.”

The CUNY Rising Alliance is a relatively new coalition of PSC members and students lobbying for a free CUNY, whose campus liaisons spoke at the event.

“Higher Education Action Day will be April 9th,” said Thomas Lee, CUNY Rising liaison and administrative head of the Music department. Lee encouraged students to join “the protest against austerity” and support the “New Deal for CUNY” State Senate bill.

But the event did not end there. After the screening ended, SEEK student moderators interviewed Rosalind Kilkenny McLymont, a CCNY 1971 student activist, journalist and author. McLymont highlighted the potential of grassroots organizing and the landscape of higher education in America. The sense of hope that was spread across the auditorium was palpable.

“You have campuses across the nation that are no longer one single color. You have a student population that is very diverse, even though in some campuses you have pushback against having people of color,” said McLymont. “You also have to look at those so-called legacy schools – you know, like Harvard and Yale – where you don’t have to have the brains to go to those schools, but you have the rich mothers and fathers who pay for their kids to get into those schools. But, the color of this campus is very good. It is the population that makes it up.”

The exhibit on the history of the QC SEEK Program is on view in Rosenthal Library through May 2nd.

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