Student protests at NYU end after 40 hours

  • A New York University protest took place last Wednesday
  • An organization called Take Back NYU occupied a university dining hall, making a list of academic and financial demands
  • After a gathering of nearly 1,000 outside the dining hall, the students eventually left and were suspended on Friday

After nearly 40 hours of barricaded occupation inside a New York University dining hall, students protesting both academic and financial policy at the university gave up their ground and left the area.

"Take Back NYU!", an organization a formed by NYU students, organized the protest last Wednesday and stood their ground until Friday, causing 18 students to be suspended.

While occupying the area, the students listed their demands, which included amnesty for all parties involved, annual release of NYU's budget and endowment, tuition stabilization so as to not exceed the rate of inflation and for the school to donate an excess of supplies and materials to help rebuild the University of Gaza.

Emily Stainkamp, a first-year student at NYU, was among the students who were eventually suspended.

"We have voiced our demands through established channels around campus repeatedly," Stainkamp said. "We have sent letters to the school president John Sexton. We have had educational events, we have done a lot of coalitional building and we felt that we had exhausted established means because every time we tried to speak to the university about the demands, which are fairly reasonable, we have been pointedly ignored."

Due to the university's failure to sit down with Take Back NYU!, nearly 40 people, some students and some not, occupied and barricaded the Kimmel Center.

Stainkamp said the context of their occupation was in adherence with other university protests occurring around the world that are also vying for solidarity and humanitarian need to Gaza.

She said many people do not see the connection between the Gaza demands and the rest of the demands, which are primarily focused on their school.

"The Gaza demands have to do with the fact that we stand in solidarity with all the other universities that have been occupying for Gaza and the fact that we would like to see NYU conduct itself in a way that has a clear regard for human rights," she said.

Maria Lewis, a sophomore at NYU, was also suspended for protesting. She explained what occurred during the 40 hours of occupation.

"What happened is that we carved out a political space that was just for us," she said. "We hung out, we talked to each other we had dance parties."

She said from the very beginning they made their demands known.

"We wanted to basically sit down with people and talk about our grievances and talk about what we want to accomplish," she said. "Within 40 hours they never sat down with us, never made eye contact with us. The only time an administrator and a student were in a room together was when they were issuing us our suspension papers. They made it very clear they didn't want to hear student voices and they were not going to listen to us."

Lewis said by the second night, there were about 1,000 people outside rallying in their support.

"The protest began on the sidewalk but soon took over the entire block and soon took over the street and it became a huge rally for solidarity," she said.

Despite the magnitude of the rally, Take Back NYU! said no one from the NYU administration ever made contact with their group.

Although both Lewis and Stainkamp maintained that no one made contact with them, John Beckman, a spokesman for NYU, explained that the university did offer to sit down and have dialogue with the students if they agreed to leave Thursday night.

"The 18 students who stayed through the night of February 19 — after rejecting the university's offer to leave the building — have been suspended pending the outcome of the university's disciplinary process," Beckman said. "No students who were participating in the demonstration in the Kimmel Center cafeteria were arrested by the New York Police Department. None of the students' demands were met."

Lewis said that despite the group being suspended, they have a large support group of both faculty and students.

"We have massive faculty support as well as support from graduate school students," she said. "The faculty is currently circulating a petition that the university drop all charges and meet our demands."