Civil rights attorneys are concerned about the disciplinary charges issued Wednesday against two Brooklyn College students for their participation in a ‘mic check’ during a February 16 faculty meeting by an ad hoc group of nine students concerned about issues ranging from tuition, to diversity to surveillance. Palestine Legal and the Center for Constitutional Rights are representing Sarah Aly and Thomas DeAngelis, two students charged with violating Rules 1, 2, 3, and 7 of CUNY’s code of conduct, or the Henderson Rules. The charges against the students range from intentional obstruction and failure to comply with lawful directions to unauthorized occupancy of college facilities and disorderly conduct. The students may face penalties ranging from admonition to expulsion. These overblown charges will be addressed at an upcoming hearing.
The charges come after a recent letter by the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) to “investigate and ban” Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) from all CUNY campuses. The New York Daily News and other outlets repeated false statements that Brooklyn College SJP (BC-SJP) members were “involved in anti-Semitic rhetoric” at the February faculty meeting. Brooklyn College President Gould and Provost Tramontino issued a statement to the Campus Community on February 17th, asserting that the group of students made hateful anti-Jewish remarks. In fact, the charges against Aly and DeAngelis contain no such allegations.
Though the mic check was organized by an ad hoc group of students called the “Brooklyn College Student Coalition,” Aly and De Angelis are also executive board members of Brooklyn College-Students for Justice in Palestine (BC-SJP).
Since President Gould released her statement, Aly, who comes from a working class, immigrant background, has received a barrage of harassing, Islamophobic communications accusing of her of antisemitism and discrimination. She has received messages calling her “Muslim trash” and “scum” for her “heinous acts,” with one message stating that “[E]very Muslim involved in creating this environment [at Brooklyn College] needs to be publically identified.” A poster advertising Brooklyn College’s study abroad program which contained an image of Aly was defaced – an upside-down cross was drawn on her forehead, and her eyes blacked out.
The Statement of Charges alleges that DeAngelis – a Brooklyn College honors student and the first in his family to attend college – “stood up from his/her seat with other students and took part in a ‘mic check’ or call and response where one student read a statement and the other students repeated it.” Aly, also an honors student, is charged with later joining other students in the same mic check. The charges conclude that “as a result, the meeting was adjourned.”
Students decided to engage in a ‘mic check’ as a last resort, after years of failed attempts to engage the university on a range of social justice issues. When there was a break in remarks, the students read off a series of demands from a sheet of paper, which included “more full-time faculty of color on campus,” “solidarity with the PSC-union’s struggle for just contracts and adjuncts’ struggle for pay parity,” “a return to free tuition and open admissions,” and “an end to the use of undercover agents at Brooklyn College.” During the mic check, a third student, not a member of BC-SJP, also spontaneously said “Zionism out of CUNY.” A report by Palestine Legal and the Center for Constitutional Rights documents among other trends the increasing accusations of antisemitism, on campus and elsewhere, leveled at human rights activists solely for challenging the Israeli government’s policies. Criticism of Israeli policies, human rights violations, or Zionism is not antisemitic.
The students have been asked to sign a settlement agreement, which would constitute an admission of wrongdoing and could go on their permanent records. Aly and DeAngelis requested that President Gould correct her February 17 statement to the Campus Community, falsely accusing them of having made anti-Jewish and hateful remarks. Brooklyn College refused to correct the record. “All we want is for Gould to apologize for her careless, inaccurate remarks that have been following me for months,” said DeAngelis. “The last thing I want is to go to a hearing, but if it’s the only way to set the record straight, Brooklyn College has left me with no choice.”
“Because of Gould’s false accusations I’ve been subject to a wave of Islamophobic and hateful messages,” said Aly. “It was humiliating and at times really scary. Brooklyn College should be protecting all students, including Muslims and those advocating social justice, but instead has made things worse. I’d rather spend my last weeks of college with friends and studying, I don’t see why Brooklyn College won’t just apologize and end this ordeal.”
“Brooklyn College, without notice or hearing, caved to outside pressure within twenty-four hours and declared these students to be antisemites,” said Palestine Legal staff attorney Radhika Sainath, who is representing Aly and DeAngelis. “After a lengthy investigation, these statements weren’t substantiated but they’re still being charged with other conduct violations. There is absolutely no basis for attempting to ruin these students’ careers over a few minutes of social justice chants.”
Aly and DeAngelis will have the opportunity to present and cross-examine witnesses at an upcoming hearing along with their legal counsel.
“CUNY’s own rules require the college to protect the right of students to express their views free from external pressures or influence,” said Maria LaHood, deputy legal director at the Center for Constitutional Rights. “Yet once again, Brooklyn College is targeting SJP students for expressing their views, even in an instance where their social justice demands had nothing to do with Israel/Palestine.”