A participatory project to collect and preserve the histories of the City University of New York

Oral History Interview with Henry Arce

In this interview conducted about CUNY’s Open Admissions program, Arce describes his journey from the NYC Public School system to graduating from college. He credits his mother, who raised him alone in a Puerto Rican, immigrant community, for instilling the importance of an education. In 1966 he was recruited to be a student in SEEK program and attend City College. As a student he began to question what he refers to as the “contradictions” found in American society. Arce describes taking a class with the Poet Laureate of Puerto Rico, Diana Ramírez de Arellano as a pivotal moment in understanding his role as Puerto Rican at City College.

Arce was active in the founding of PRISA (Puerto Ricans Involved in Students Action) and became their first president. He was also in a leadership position during the City College Takeover, and the formation of Harlem College which is largely credited for ultimately leading to Open Admissions. He discusses Frantz Fanon’s teachings influence on how the Takeover was organized. In addition, he describes the Five Demands which included addressing the fact the City College was 97% white despite being in predominately black Harlem. Activists emphasized that minority students were not receiving an education that prepared them to succeed at college and wanted a diverse curriculum that valued and reflected their backgrounds. Although he admits their failure may have been to “not pass the baton” on to the next generation, he also acknowledges the many successes including that fact that the racial ratio of CUNY has drastically changed and more minorities are graduating now. This interview is a lively account of a nation, city and college that was in process of questioning meritocracy and equality in education and pluralistic perspectives.

Source | Medina, Douglas
Creator | Medina, Douglas
Date Created | February 26, 2014
Interviewer | Medina, Douglas
Interviewee | Arce, Henry
Rights | Obtain From Medina, Douglas
Item Type | Oral History (Digital)
Cite This document | Medina, Douglas, “Oral History Interview with Henry Arce,” CUNY Digital History Archive, accessed March 3, 2024,

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