The Imperative of Activism:

Then & Now

Welcome to the City College of New York!

We at CCNY are delighted to host the 2021 MMUF NY Regional Conference and welcome our five partner schools in New York City: Hunter College, Queens College, Brooklyn College, Barnard College and Columbia University. We are proud of our partnership with The Andrew G. Mellon Foundation, and we strongly believe in the program’s mission to diversify the professoriate and bring equity to the academy. This goal perfectly aligns with the mission of City College and the rich history of student activism on our campus. MMUF’s commitment to diversity and racial justice resonates with CCNY, which was established as 'The Free Academy' in 1847 and is the founding institution of the City University of New York. Early in the 20th Century, most students were children of Jewish immigrants that settled in the Lower East Side and Brooklyn, fought anti-Semitism on a mostly white campus, and struggled for free speech. In the 1930s, CCNY faculty and students protested against militarism, social and economic injustice at home, and the threat of fascism abroad, and, as a result, students were dismissed or expelled and some faculty members were denied reappointment. This political climate inspired over 60 CCNY volunteers to fight Fascism in Spain in 1937.

In 1969, CCNY students made several demands of the college administration.

Click through below to see images from this watershed moment in history.

A Harlem native and 1958 CCNY alum, General Colin Powell, in describing his years on campus, perfectly encapsulates our mission: “I typified the students that CCNY was created to serve, the sons and daughters of the inner city, the poor, the immigrant. Many of my college classmates had the brain power to attend Harvard, Yale, or Princeton. What they lacked was money and influential connections” (My American Journey 76). Since 1847, CCNY has embraced its role at the forefront of social change, and our conference remains loyal to that mission.

We live in uncertain times and social change may feel like an impossibility these days.

Many graduate programs put their admissions on hold this year, and yet several of our fellows and recent alumni achieved their goal to pursue PhD degrees, had their papers published and earned prestigious awards. I’m encouraged that 44 fellows from all 6 MMUF schools in NYC will be presenting their important research and advance the equity and social justice agenda.

In case the the continued difficulties of these troubled times make you falter, I will share the most transformational moment in CCNY’s history for encouragement and strength. I’m referring to the protests of 1969, when students organized and made several demands of the administration. Among them were the creation of a separate school of Black and Puerto Rican Studies and an open admissions policy so that the racial composition of the college would reflect the Black and Puerto Rican population of NYC public schools. As a result of the struggle, Open Admissions was instituted in 1970 and other CUNY colleges followed suit. At City, four ethnic studies programs were created: Puerto Rican Studies, Asian Studies, Jewish Studies and African-American Studies, now Black Studies. 

So to the fellows participating in the conference, I urge you to enjoy the conference and inspire us all with your wisdom. I also encourage you to keep CCNY in mind when you complete your PhDs and look for academic jobs. Come and teach with us and help us further our pursuit of social justice.

I am grateful to CCNY Archivist Professor Sydney Van Nort for giving us access to these images from the library archives, to Daisy Domínguez, Interim Associate Dean and Chief Librarian, (CCNY Libraries) for allowing us to reproduce them, and to Anthony Achille for their support. The conference wouldn’t have been possible without the dedication of three outstanding women, Renee Philippi, our Administrative Director, Susan Evans, CCFELL ’20, and Abir Petiwala, CCNY-MMUF ‘20, who also built the website.

We invite you to remain involved in our learning community and follow us on Twitter.

Isabel Estrada

Associate Professor of Iberian Cultural Studies

Director, City College Fellowships Program