[Documents menu] Documents menu

From sadanand@mail.ccsu.edu Tue Jun 18 15:00:06 2002
From: Sadanand, Nanjundiah (Physics) <sadanand@mail.ccsu.edu>
Subject: Housatonic Community College
Date: Tue, 18 Jun 2002 14:42:48 -0400

Housatonic Community College cancels Mid-East issues forum. Why?

By Robert Masterson, The Fairfield Weekly, 13 June 2002

Housatonic Community College has carved out a unique oasis for learning within the decay of downtown Bridgeport.

Housed in a former shopping mall, the school's architecture forms a barrier on all four sides surrounding the common area, a faux-agora complete with concrete columns and arches, designed to shelter students from the noise of the street and to encourage the free exchange of ideas. Despite the echoes of ancient civilizations, HCC offers two-year degrees and certification programs in fields undreamed of by the citizens of Athens and Rome. Biotech, computer, law enforcement and health-care classes prepare students for entry into the 21st century workforce.

As the school year drew to a close this year and as the current Middle East crisis continued to metastasize, the president of HCC's Black Student Union, Rupert Ranger, and the vice-president of the Association of Latin American Students, John Lugo, thought it might be a good idea to arrange a forum to present varied perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Palestinian struggle for independence.

After all, ALAS and the BSU had sponsored similar events in the past including open discussions of diversity in the classroom, a Holocaust remembrance program, a Spanish language film festival and criticism of the United States policy of military aid to Colombia.

With the goal of providing HCC students a broader understanding of the issues involved in the Mid-East conflict than they might otherwise receive from the mainstream coverage available in America, Ranger and Lugo invited four speakers, two American Jews and two Palestinian-Americans, to participate in a program entitled U.S. Support of Israel: Holy War or State-Sponsored Genocide?

Since the BSU held a standing reservation for a room off the school's cafeteria in which it holds its weekly meeting, Lugo and Ranger thought they would use that room for the forum. The two designed and printed up a poster advertising the event.

On May 7, the day of the forum, invited speakers and interested students began to assemble in the HCC cafeteria. Instead of being allowed to hold that forum, however, they were met by Dean of Students Lisa Montgomery, accompanied by school security guards, who informed those assembled that the event was canceled.

Pulling the speakers, some of whom had traveled over an hour to attend, aside for a private chat away from the student organizers, Montgomery explained that numerous school procedures had been violated in the planning and execution of the forum and, while it could be possible for the event to be rescheduled for sometime next autumn, there would be no discussion that day.

According to HCC students there that day, the guards at the cafeteria turned people away, telling them the event was canceled and to not enter the building.

Housatonic Community College has rules pertaining to any event planned by a student or student club or organization. Among those rules is the stipulation that student clubs are required to consult their faculty advisors in the planning process, submit the appropriate and required forms for planning and room reservations, and receive final approval from the Student Life Office and the Office of the Dean of Students. Events that do not follow these policies, procedures, and guidelines will be ineligible for funding through the Student Senate and may be subject to cancellation.

Furthermore, any posters, fliers or notices advertising for school clubs and organizations must be approved and stamped by the Coordinator of Student Life. All other material must be approved and stamped by the Dean of Outreach Services. Any material not approved and stamped by these two administrators will be removed. And therein lies the controversy.

Ranger and Lugo say they took their poster to Shante Hanks, HCC's Student Life Coordinator, for her approval and that Hanks withheld her stamp because, they say, she found the flier offensive and in poor taste. The two posted copies around campus anyway. Lugo and Ranger admit they had not received official permission from their faculty advisors. Neither advisor would comment on the situation when contacted by the Weekly, but Antonio Senes, the ALAS advisor, did distribute a memo via email on May 8 following the cancellation in which he tried to explain the planning process ALAS follows and his personal support of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution guaranteeing the right of free speech.

Lugo and Ranger admit they did not make special arrangements to reserve a room specifically for their Mid-East forum. Instead, they felt confident that the BSU was within its rights to use its regularly reserved meeting place to host the program. A few quick tours of the HCC campus confirmed the existence of posters and fliers advertising tutoring services, rentals, calls for roommates, employment opportunities, parties, classes and workshops. Some of those carried the official stamp of approval. Many did not. Many were weeks old and had still not been removed from school bulletin boards and kiosks.

School administrators could not tell the Weekly which, if any, of those unauthorized events may have been canceled. Both Ranger and Lugo insist that they have rarely, if ever, followed the HCC rules for event planning. They showed me the posters and fliers they'd used to advertise other programs. None carried the required stamp of approval. None had been canceled.

In support of the idea that there was more to the cancellation than those simple violations of school rules, members of the HCC community, speaking on condition of anonymity, expressed their belief that it was this event and its anticipated content that led a group of adamantly vocal faculty members to apply pressure to scuttle the forum.

Whether what occurred may have been a case of selective enforcement is still under investigation. Currently, the Connecticut Civil Liberties Union in Hartford is conducting its own investigation into the events of May 7 at Housatonic Community College. The organization is gathering documents and conducting interviews to determine what course of action, if any, it will take in response to the HCC administration canceling the forum.