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Student reflects on her open letter to CUNY to address inequality

Courtesy of Teona Pagan

It has been four months since Baruch College student Teona Pagan wrote an open letter to the administration requesting to reduce and eliminate the inequalities faced by CUNY faculty and students of color.

The letter followed the death of George Floyd which influenced a series of demands penned by Pagan.

The letter requested administration to release a statement expressing their solidarity with the Black community, cease any partnership with the New York City Police Department immediately, bring in mental health and counseling resources exclusively for Black students coping with the present circumstances, the creation of a Black studies major and the hiring of more Black educators across all disciplines. The letter in its entirety can be accessed here.

The initiatives mentioned in the letter kept Pagan busy working with students and staff across CUNY to create a network to implement change. She helped start The Black Student Union of CUNY a unified organization that s aim is to empower all Black Student Unions and African clubs and organizations within the CUNY system.

Pagan and the group are working to get it chartered through the University Student Senate.

“Until then we are still having events and doing the work on the ground level to bring Black students across CUNY together,” Pagan said

Pagan has been working closely with clubs on campus and collaborating on events to address issues Black students face regarding inequality. When clubs return to school, she wants to ensure they do not face the same issues they have had in the past.

“We would be doing ourselves a disservice if we go back to what was normal,” she said.

Another request was to reconsider the partnership CUNY has with the NYPD.

“In recent news, we have been witnesses to the New York City Police Department showing that they clearly have no regard for preserving the Black body and the life that comes with it,” wrote Pagan in her letter.

This request brought about the CUNY for Abolition and Safety Coalition developed due to inequalities faced by students.

This group is an anti-racist, multicultural and cross-campus student coalition that has taken on the task of creating a more equitable honors system. They are working toward, “Cutting ties of all police department involvement for the safety of students,” Pagan said

“There are now a series of mental health support groups for Black students through the Counseling Center,” Pagan said. She counters that this support is also necessary for staff and faculty as well and it needs to be a “permanent thing.”

One of the items from her list of changes that will take longer to implement is the Black studies major, which she has been working on with the Black and Latino studies department, and the addition of more staff of color.

“When you change, when you amend anything like to courses or even a major, it has to go all the way up to Albany,” she said, adding that it will probably take two to three years to happen.

Pagan said that she is pleased with the prospect that “it is in the works.”

“Some Black tenured faculty that have been hired through the Black and Latino department,” Pagan said. “But as far as it is going across all majors and concentrations, I have not really seen a lot.”

COVID-19 could be one of the issues slowing down the hiring process, but the process is still slow moving, she said.

Pagan, now a senior, will continue even after graduation to be a part of what she created. She feels that all of the organizing and networking with staff and students has set the groundwork for the future, and she said she is looking toward the younger generation of students and remaining staff to carry the work forward.

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