May 31, 2016, New York – In a written decision issued last Friday, a City University of New York (CUNY) disciplinary committee exonerated Sarah Aly and Thomas DeAngelis, two Brooklyn College students charged with violating the “Henderson Rules” for taking part in a February 16 “mic check” at a meeting of faculty council. The students, seniors Sarah Aly and Thomas DeAngelis, appeared at a hearing to face harsh measures for the mic check, including possible expulsion. The day after the mic check, the college’s presidentand provost sent an email to the entire college community, falsely stating that the group of students had made “anti-Jewish comments” at the meeting. Palestine Legal and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) represented the two students at the hearing and are urging Brooklyn College President Gould to apologize.
“Rather than comply with the College’s constitutional due process obligations, President Gould pre-determined these students’ guilt and callously blasted it to thousands of people in an incredible rush to judgment,” said Palestine Legal attorney Radhika Sainath, who represented Aly and DeAngelis at the five-hour disciplinary hearing. “This was a politically-motivated disciplinary process that should never have happened.”
At the May 20 hearing, nine professors from seven departments testified that the February “mic check” involved issues ranging from tuition, to surveillance, to diversity, that it lasted only a few minutes, that the faculty council meeting need not have been adjourned, that no harm came to the faculty council or university business, that many faculty members cheered on the students, and that similar interruptions had not resulted in disciplinary charges in the past. Attorneys with Palestine Legal and CCR argued that the disciplinary charges would not have been brought against Aly and DeAngelis if the Zionist Organization of America had not complained and had the students not been leaders of Brooklyn College-Students for Justice in Palestine (BC-SJP) and Muslim students of color.
“We were very careful to wait for a break in remarks before we spoke at the faculty council meeting,” said DeAngelis, who testified that an ad hoc group of nine students had gone to the faculty council meeting that day. “Our goal was never to end the meeting, but to share our concerns. We’ve tried to raise these grievances in other forums and got no response from the college.”
There was a significant security presence outside the disciplinary hearing, with reports of at least eight police officers. Police barricades were erected outside the building where professors, students, and journalists had gathered, expecting to be able to attend the hearing. The disciplinary committee’s chairperson, who acted as a judge, denied respondents’ request that the hearing be made public, stating that he believed it would be “disruptive.”
“This whole process has definitely taken an emotional toll,” said Aly, “I’ve lost sleep over this. My grades have suffered. It was terribly humiliating being smeared by the college’s president like that. Brooklyn College should be treating less-privileged students equally, not throwing us under the bus because of political pressure.”
Since President Gould released her February 17 statement, Aly, who comes from a working class, immigrant background, has received a barrage of harassing, Islamophobic communications falsely accusing her of antisemitism and discrimination. She has received messages calling her “Muslim trash” and “scum” for her “heinous acts”.
The disciplinary committee found Aly and DeAngelis “not culpable” of three of the four charges. For the fourth, “failure to comply with lawful directions,” they received the minimum penalty, admonition.
The charges against Aly and DeAngelis reflect a well-documented pattern of politically-motivated tactics used to suppress Palestinian rights advocates across the country, including at the City University of New York.
“Even though Sarah and Thomas have been vindicated by the disciplinary process, Brooklyn College still needs to account for its shameful actions here,” said Maria LaHood, deputy legal director at the Center for Constitutional Rights. “Rather than welcoming these principled students’ engagement with important social justice issues facing Brooklyn College, President Gould immediately and publicly smeared them as having made hateful comments, and even after she was proven wrong, the University moved forward with trumped-up charges and a full-blown disciplinary hearing. Sarah and Thomas deserve an apology.”
The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.