The Struggle Over Who CUNY Serves

This is taken from “Some Thoughts on The History of Slam” found here.

The Struggle Over Who CUNY Serves

CUNY is not like most university systems in the U.S. CUNY was founded in 1847 as the “Free Academy” to educate the working class and had free tuition from 1847 until 1976. The large majority of students are from working class and poor families, and the majority of students are oppressed nationalities.

But CUNY hasn’t always been that way – continual rounds of student and community struggles since the late 1960s transformed CUNY from an almost-all white institution to a university that attempted to reflect the class and race of the students coming out of New York City’s high schools. In 1969, the few Black students that were at CUNY’s flagship campus, City College (CCNY) in Harlem, with support from the surrounding Black community, took over campus buildings demanding that the mostly-white City University should adopt ‘open admissions’ so that Black and Puerto Rican high school graduates in New York City would get a chance to go to college and get the support they needed when they got there.

After a series of building takeovers and fights against cops and some racist white students, along with rounds of negotiating with CUNY administrators, they CUNY administration gave in and agreed to open admissions for the following school year. Literally overnight, the class and racial composition of CUNY was radically transformed, and CUNY became an institution that to a much larger degree than before ‘served the people’ of New York City rather than being a mostly-white bastion aimed at mostly serving business interests.


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