The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

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St. John’s Students ‘Rally Against Injustice’

Though+there+was+no+noticeable+presence+from+SJU+Public+Safety+during+the+rally%2C+two+NYPD+cars+and+an+unmarked+police+vehicle+trailed+behind+the+crowd+as+it+marched+along+the+campus+perimeter.%C2%A0
Though there was no noticeable presence from SJU Public Safety during the rally, two NYPD cars and an unmarked police vehicle trailed behind the crowd as it marched along the campus perimeter. 

Students gathered outside of Gate One at St. John’s University Queens campus yesterday at  1 p.m. for a “Rally Against Injustice.” Approximately 30 students marched around the perimeter of the Queens campus with signs asking the University to “care” for its students and freeze tuition. 

The rally was organized virtually, as most have been in the wake of COVID-19, via the Instagram account @sjurally (originally @sjutuition). The original call to action, posted on July 10, called upon students to gather against the “rise of tuition costs, failure to address systemic racism on campus (BLM), and failure to implement protections for international students amidst new I.C.E. regulations.” The latter was removed following the reversal of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) ordinance. 

 

 

Yesterday’s rally began with a brief introduction of the day’s itinerary — which included a march around the campus perimeter, sharing of personal experiences in front of Gate One after the march and a sit-in — as well as the distribution of a flyer to attendees which clarified the group’s objectives and rights as protestors. 

“What do we want? Tuition justice. When do we want it? Now,” “These tuition hikes have got to go,” and “We want Bobby,” were some of the chants led by students during the march around the campus perimeter.

SJU Junior Maria Mora said one of the major reasons she was protesting was in response to the tuition increase

“A lot of our students live in marginalized communities, they have working class families and the fact that the president doesn’t care about our well-being is, you know, cruel,” Mora said. “And we’re here because we know there’s a lot of students that can’t pay that bill so we’re here protesting for them.”

“I’m one of those people that is personally affected,” junior Trinidad Duran said. “So I’m here protesting for myself, but also once I heard about international students I wanted to come out and protest for them … I’m also here protesting here for others who are like me and are facing financial hardships during these times and also my fellow black and brown students.” 

The crowd marched from Gate One down Grand Central Parkway, past Gate Six and to the corner of Utopia Parkway and Union Turnpike, where the list of student demands was read aloud by organizers Shaeleigh Severino and Julia Betancourt, SGi Vice President. 

 

 

These demands are listed on a document drafted by Severino and Betancourt entitled, “St. John’s University Student Demands.” 

“This [tuition] increase has been given to students, exactly with one months notice, as tuition bills are due on July 22, 2020 by 7 p.m., or exactly eight days from now, or students are subject to an additional $200 late fee,” Severino said, reading from the document to the crowd. 

“At a time where students are scrambling to put their financial lives together, it is unquestionably more difficult for students to meet this deadline. A $200 fee not only punishes students for experiencing financial difficulty, it contributes to the financial difficulty that they face,” she continued. “This is a direct financial attack and injustice, especially to low-income/housing insecure students, students with disabilities, Black, Brown, Indigenous students, unable to afford these egregious costs due to a global pandemic.”

The full list of demands includes: a tuition freeze for the 2020-2021 academic year; that the deadline to pay tuition be extended by two weeks and more payment options be made available; a breakdown of the $1.2 million received by the University under the federal CARES Act; that SJU cut ties with the New York City Police Department, New York City Fire Department, ICE and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol; staff, adjuncts and professors of minority backgrounds not be furloughed; a mandatory “anti-oppressive course” that all students and staff must take; and a response from University leadership on the Antiracism Response signed by 119 student leaders, which was administered by SGi. 

“The marginalized and oppressed students at St. John’s should not be forced to do the work to ensure that our University takes tangible and revolutionary action to defend and protect them. Yet year after year, black and brown students are forced to fight for their rights to representation, safe education, antiracist classrooms, antiracist dorms, and antiracist professors,” Betancourt said. 

The document of student demands closes with, “If we cannot get a response through the many methods that the student body has attempted,we will show up at your doorstep. We await your reply.”

Though there was no noticeable presence from SJU Public Safety during the rally, two NYPD cars and an unmarked police vehicle trailed behind the crowd as it marched along the campus perimeter. 

The Torch reached out to University Spokesperson Brian Browne for comment on the rally. 

“The University respects the right of students to express their concerns publicly. As you know, the rally was held while the campus is still closed due to COVID-19 public health guidelines and restrictions. Students who have concerns are encouraged to share them with the Student Government, Inc., the duly elected and official representatives of undergraduate students who are in regular communication with the University administration,” Browne said. 

“St. John’s University continues its ongoing commitment to antiracism and ensuring student success,” he continued. “The University’s Catholic and Vincentian mission of helping those most in need guides its decisions in allocating its limited resources to meet the institution’s strategic priorities.”

On July 14, a letter from Queens District 24 Council Member Rory Lancman addressed to Browne was posted on Instagram, following a meeting between Lancman and the organizers of the rally on July 13. 

In the letter, Lancman requests a meeting between University officials and the organizers of the rally.

“Many of these students are my constituents, and they contacted my office for support and assistance, particularly since they believe that their efforts to speak with administration officials about these concerns, and to establish a meaningful and collaborative dialogue, have been unsuccessful,” Lancman said.

Lancman also asked to be notified of any scheduled meetings between University officials and these student representatives. 

In an email to the Torch, Browne acknowledged receiving Council Member Lancman’s letter. 

Yesterday’s rally ended back at Gate One, where students performed a sit-in and hung their signs on the closed iron gates. 

“Act like a Christian,” one sign read. “Freeze tuition.”

 

Editor’s Note: The Torch has reached out to rally organizers and will update this article with any responses we receive.

 

 

 

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About the Contributor
Dayra Santana, Editor-in-Chief
Dayra is a senior Communication Arts and Legal Studies major. She joined the Torch during her sophomore year as Assistant Features Editor and later became Features Editor and Managing Editor. In her last year, she is serving as the publication’s Editor-in-Chief and hopes to reach more people in the St. John’s community in new and creative ways, including the Torch newsletter and other digital platforms. Dayra loves to make playlists in her free time and favors Spotify over Apple Music! You can reach Dayra at [email protected].
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    Maria MoraJul 20, 2020 at 1:19 pm

    Hi SJU Torch,

    It’s been five days since your organization has uploaded the article surrounding the SJU Rally. As a student, I believe this article and post has done more harm than good. As there are photographs and names being circulated around our community, this puts students in jeopardy in the same academic community you occupy.  Personally, as my name is mentioned in the article, I thought your Editor-in-Cheif asked me for my name out of respect. I wouldn’t have given my full name for it to be used in this way. Also, keep in mind most of the students who attended the SJU Rally are becoming exposed to your audience. So reconsider what you have posted. 

    I demand the photos be taken down, for my name and any name that wasn’t consented to be removed from the article, and an extensive review of the whole article by the students you have quoted and wrote about. As a “voice” for students, you also have the responsibility to protect them. I’m incredibly appalled at how your organization is handling this. Please do better. 

    Sincerely, 
    Maria Mora

    Reply