A Journey Through City College (Her)story

A Few of the Countless Women that Shaped CCNY’s Legacy

Previously published by The Campus

When thriving within a society that systemically limits opportunities for women, especially women of color, transgender women, and lesbian women, it is consistently helpful and enriching to look back on powerful women in history. All of which have fought past the way women are often seen, and illustrated the revolutionary strength in which they hold.

The world is rich with women who embody characteristics of bravery, empathy, creativity, and innovation. The City College of New York is no exception. Below is a (in no way comprehensive) list of the women whose intelligence and motivation have shaped the legacy of CCNY to this very day. This Women’s History Month, and every other month, let us remember these stories in a manner that commands us to be inspired.

Gabourey Sidibe

Most know her from Precious, American Horror Story, and Empire, but she walked the halls of Shepard a bit over a decade ago. While she did not fully graduate from City College, she explored its inner workings nonetheless.

Born in Brooklyn and raised in Harlem, Sidibe got her break with the movie “Precious.” She plays the main character, Precious, a 16-year-old mother of two- both of which are due to rape from her father- who is striving to escape from the abusive grip of her mother. The film won two Academy Awards, a Golden Globe Award, and Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Award. She herself received several nominations and won more than a dozen awards for the role. Since her breakout, she has been in things such as: “Yelling to the Sky,” “American Horror Story,” “Empire,” and “Difficult People.”

Irena Klepfisz

Born in the Warsaw Ghetto during 1941, Klepfisz is no stranger to struggle. In late 1941, on the second day of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which was resistance by Polish Jews under Nazi occupation, her father was killed. She was briefly placed in an orphanage before her mother, who used false papers to work as a maid for a Polish family, retrieved her and fled to the Polish countryside.

After surviving World War II, they moved to Sweden in 1946, and eventually to the United States in 1949. Klepfisz attended CCNY and studied with Max Weinreich, a Yiddish Linguist. She graduated with honors in English and Yiddish. She has worked within feminist, lesbian, and secular Jewish circles as an activist. Also an author of countless articles and poems, Klepfisz embodies a phoenix, endlessly rising.

Assata Shakur

Born in Flushing, Queens, Shakur attended CCNY in the mid 60s and was heavily active in political activism. A registered fugitive with a reward of around $2,000,000, Shakur was first arrested with around 100 other Borough of Manhattan Community College students, in 1967, for trespassing. Shakur and her peers had chained themselves to the gates of the institution in order to protest low numbers of black faculty and the complete lack of a black studies program.

Since graduating CCNY, she joined the Black Panther Party, which she left due to her distaste for “macho” behavior of some of the men, and then landed in the Black Liberation Army. On April 6th, 1971, Shakur was shot in the stomach at the Statler Hilton Hotel in Manhattan. In 1972, Shakur became the subject of a cross-country manhunt when the FBI thought BLA to be responsible for police-killings taking place in NYC, although this was never confirmed.

After several other run-ins with the criminal justice system, Shakur was put in a correctional facility for women in New Jersey. She escaped within the year and is now living in Cuba where she received political asylum.

Margaret Chin

Born in Hong Kong in 1954, Chin ended up attending CCNY to pursue a degree in education. After graduating, she worked for LaGuardia Community College for 14 years. Chin has been an active member of several public service groups that focus on Asian American equality and empowering said community and others in need.

Chin was a founding member of the Chinatown Partnership Local Development Corporation before getting deeply involved in politics. Emerging into this new political world, Chin was a part of Manhattan Community Board 1 and Manhattan Community Board 3, and was also elected to the New York State Democratic Committee for two terms from 1986 to 1990.

Subsequently, Chin is now the incumbent member of the New York City Council from the 1st District. Peter Kwong, a Hunter College Professor and sociologist, has called her victory a “milestone in an increasingly active Asian American community.”

Wendy Wasserstein

In 1971, Wasserstein earned a Master of Arts in creative writing from City College. Her first production, Uncommon Women and Others, a graduate thesis for Yale, was merely the beginning of a long and winding road for the playwright.

In 1989 Wasserstein won the Tony Award, the Susan Blackburn Prize, and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for her play The Heidi Chronicles. During her entire career, which spanned almost four decades, she wrote 11 plays, won a Tony, a Pulitzer, a New York Drama Critics Circle Award, a Drama Desk Award, and an Outer Critics Circle Award. Even farther, Wasserstein wrote the screenplay for the 1998 film “Object of My Affection,” starring Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd.

She once commented that her parents allowed her to go to Yale for undergraduate schooling only because she would be able to meet an “eligible lawyer,” get married, and lead a “conventional” life. This, however, was not the life she chose. Instead, she continued making films, plays, and whatever else she could get her hands on, until her passing in 2006.

Chakaia Booker

Born in 1953, Booker is incredibly versed in African dance, ceramics, weaving, basketry, t’ai chi, and several other artistic practices. Since attaining a Master of Fine Arts from the City College of New York in 1993, she has used her idiosyncratic skills in a way that has moved people beyond comprehension.

Booker has permanent collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Akron Museum of Art, Cornell University’s Johnson Museum of Art, The Max Protetch and June Kelly galleries in New York, as well as others. She has graced, both through solo and group presentation, the Neuberger Museum of Art, the Akron Museum of Art, Marlborough Gallery, the Sandler Hudson Gallery in Atlanta, Georgia, the P.S.I. Contemporary Art Center in Queens, and the “Twentieth Century American Sculpture” exhibition held at the White House in 1996.

In addition, The National Museum of Women in the Arts has shown her works in “The New York Avenue Sculpture Project” and “Reaching for the Stars through Art,” in 2012 and 1998 respectively. She creates as a stunning, culturally exuberant, and inspirational woman to this day.

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