The Board of Higher Education created the Hostos Community College in 1968 to serve the educational needs of the Hispanic and Puerto Rican community living in South Bronx. It was to be one of the units under the City University of New York system (Roman 1). Although the institution was the first bilingual college in mainland United States, its establishment did not augur well with the ‘enemies of bilingualism’, comprising mostly of the political elite who did not see the need for such an institution (Jiménez 3). The abovementioned stances would later portend trouble for the institution yet in its infancy because they would initiate the institution’s major financial crises.
Events which Endangered Hostos
In the early 1975/1976 academic year, there was a proposal to shut down several institutions due to a looming financial crisis in New York State. One of those listed to be closed was Hostos Community College. According to the proposal, CUNY, in which Hostos was a unit, would have a budgetary cutback (Meyer 73). The request would also see the college merged with the Bronx Community College. Following this arrangement, there would be a creation of Hostos Health Science Institute at Bronx Community College. This plan would disrupt the initial complementary relationship between the Hostos Community college and the new Lincoln Hospital. Another suggestion was to create a bilingual institute at the Bronx Community College (Meyer 9). This move would have the effect of isolating the Spanish-speaking students in an institutional ghetto.
Saving Hostos Community College
A host of mass actions by the students, community members, college professors, and ex-convicts that lead to the passage of a law that vouched for the college’s retention saved it from closure. The drive to secure the college started with the formation of the Hostos Community College organizers group headed by Professor Gerald Meyer (Meyer 9). The group circulated a petition that demanded the Hostos Community College be kept open. The instrument collected over five thousand signatures and started a letter-writing campaign (Jiménez 2). The opposers addressed the letters to the South Bronx elected officials. However, in the face of disinterested polity and time pressures, it was no longer viable to wait for the intervention of politicians. There was a need for a more disruptive and creative civil disobedience campaign to make the mayor change his mind.
Over a thousand protesters joined in a march, distributing flyers and urging others to join the save Hostos campaign. The train terminated at the Chase Manhattan Bank street, with the leaders of the charge condemning the mayor and the powerful political elite for orchestrating the cutbacks (Roman 1). It was the first movement of its kind, which sparked much enthusiasm among the participants and would form a foundation for the subsequent militant actions. The campaign expanded to include more diverse groups, all having the common objective of abating Hostos’ impending closure. The protesters formed a coalition comprising the Puerto Rican Socialist Party (PSP), the communist party, the Dominican Students Organization, Vietnam Veterans, the People’s Park, and the Puente Unidad Latina group to champion the cause (Jiménez 3). It was a community of multi-diverse persons but mostly hailing from the Hostos community. The group held various and often tense meetings over nine months to chart the way forward.
The coalition formed the largest contingency in city-wide protests against the cutbacks for institutions providing essential services within New York. It turned to more militant action culminating in the closure of the 149th street and the Grand Concourse. These actions were met with minor confrontations by the police but did not deter the protesters. The goal was to gain statewide and nationwide media coverage. The measures of closing the street preceded a series of takeovers – the takeover of CUNY’s chancellor’s office and the Hoston Community College takeover (Meyer 73). These events inspired more media coverage and increased public support for the actions.
Owing to public concern and insistence of the protestors, legislators introduced a bill to save Hostos College in the New York State Assembly and the senate. The document mandated the Board of Higher Education to maintain the bilingual college. Shortly after introducing the bill, there was a rally at The Emergency Financial Control Board, followed by the Hostos Community College’s second occupation (Jiménez 7). These events were followed by the approval of the introduced bill, which reversed the decision to close the college.
What Saving Hostos Means for the Bronx Community
Hostos provides education for many community members, most of whom are Hispanic and Black American minority groups. Teaching classes in Spanish and offering English lessons have enabled the students to carry out their studies in their most comfortable language while learning the majority’s language. Moreover, adult community members have found an opportunity to learn while working. The school also provides amenities such as halls that can be used by all individuals. Furthermore, it has upgraded the status of the community and brought business to the local neighborhood. Overall, it has empowered its students to be meaningful members of their society through its culturally sensitive education.
The proposal to shut down the Hostos Community College presented an onslaught against bilingual institutions serving minorities. However, the mass action resisting this ill-informed decision demonstrated the power of championing a united front. The college is central to the education of most Blacks and Hispanics. As such, reversing the decision to close the college still epitomizes the need to uphold minority education. The discriminatory acts of targeting institutions that cater to the needs of secluded societies should be resisted by all means.
Jiménez, Ramón J. “Hostos Community College: Battle of the Seventies.” Centro Journal, vol. 15, no 1, 2003, pp. 98-111.
Meyer, Gerald. “Save Hostos: Politics and Community Mobilization to Save a College in the Bronx, 1973 1978.” Centro Journal, vol. 15, no. 1, 2003, pp. 72-97.
Roman, Peter. “Professor Romans Letter to Governor Carey.” Bronx Beautiful. Web.