CUNY Law Students Protest Graduation After Cancellation of Annual Student Address

CUNY School of Law in the Long Island City section of Queens. (Luiz C. Ribeiro/New York Daily News/TNS)

(NY Daily News/TNS) — CUNY School of Law graduates protested commencement Thursday after the school known for public interest law and activism canceled its annual student address, which for the last two years has been critical of Israel.

Administrators decided to jettison student-elected speakers before the Israel-Hamas war and widespread campus proteststhis spring. But last month, a group of eight students sued the Queens law school over the decision, alleging it suppressed their free speech rights to avoid backlash.

“There is no student speaker on this stage, because CUNY and CUNY Law are afraid that we will use the mic to call for Palestinian liberation and an end to genocide,” dozens of graduates shouted in a call-and-response during the ceremony at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.

“We don’t need their mic,” they cried, videos on social media show. “We are the mic.”

This year’s commencement was not live-streamed as it had been in the past. The ceremony was also closed to media who did not register 10 days in advance, citing Apollo policy, a CUNY Law spokesperson said.

During the ceremony, about half of the school’s graduates stood and turned their backs on Law School Dean Sudha Setty as she spoke — with one protester shouting “shame on you,” social media posts show. Many student-protesters held pro-Palestinian signs, including “CUNY MUST DIVEST” and “THERE ARE NO GRADS IN GAZA,” as they crossed the graduation stage.

“CUNY Law has a long history of celebrating commencement with elected student speakers, who often highlight social justice causes and freedom movements,” law student Sajia Hanif said in a statement released with the lawsuit. “It’s outrageous that CUNY would rather erase that tradition and stifle free speech than allow students to speak and be heard.”

CUNY Law graduates also made headlines last year when they turned away from Mayor Eric Adams, who was met with boos as he delivered a commencement address that alluded to the more than two decades he spent as a police officer.

“As we’ve seen at commencements across the country, some participants chose to protest,” a CUNY Law spokesperson said in a statement, “but the event continued, and we are proud of all 201 members of the Class of 2024, who celebrated their amazing accomplishments in front of family and friends.”

The spokesperson declined to comment on the pending litigation.

On top of the lawsuit, the lead-up to graduation had been riddled with setbacks. Two invited speakers, including the president of the American Civil Liberties Union, pulled out in recent weeks, citing students’ concerns that their voices were excluded.

The law school also struggled for months to find a venue for graduation before landing on the Apollo, Gothamist reported. Its difficulties came after last year’s student speaker sparked a right-wing media firestorm for remarks on what she referred to as “Israeli settler colonialism.”

Adams said the address was loaded with “negativity and divisiveness,” and CUNY officials later condemned it as “hate speech.”

This year, graduations around the country have been roiled by pro-Palestine demonstrations and disruptions. In New York, a social work graduate student at Columbia University in zip-ties tore a diploma folder onstage after the main commencement was canceled, while dozens of protesters at New York University stormed out of Yankee Stadium as the college president spoke.

To Read The Full Story

Are you already a subscriber?
Click to log in!