Revolution Online, February 23, 2009
New York City:
Students Occupy Campus Building to “Take Back NYU”
From 10 pm on February 18 to 2 pm on February 20, dozens of New York University (NYU) students occupied the third floor of the Kimmel Center for University Life. This action was led by the Take Back NYU! coalition which has been organizing on campus for two years. The demands of the occupation included making public the university’s endowment (private donations) and budget; a fair labor contract for all NYU employees; a Socially Responsible Finance Committee to immediately investigate war profiteers; annual scholarships for Gaza students and donation of school materials to the University of Gaza; limits on tuition increases, among others. (The full list of demands and other information about the occupation and Take Back NYU! is online at www.takebacknyu.com.)
The students hung banners reading messages such as “Make NYU Affordable” and “Solidarity With Gaza.” Following the initial occupation, dozens of students rushed past guards to join the occupation. Numerous protests occurred outside the building, including one which the media reports as involving 700 participants pouring into the street and an all-night dance party. There were many other signs of support within the University and from others in the city, across the U.S., and around the globe. These included members of NYU faculty and student groups at other universities.
In the end, after using threats, intimidation, violence, cutting off of electricity, and false promises of negotiations, the NYU administration sent campus security guards and administration officials to storm the building and clear it of protesters. NYU has suspended 17 students and evicted those involved in the occupation from University housing. The suspended students are awaiting a judicial hearing.
The following are excerpts from interviews by Revolution correspondents with three NYU students who were part of the occupation.
A first-year student:
We chose to occupy because we had been fighting on campus for two years, fighting our fight, and we’ve written letters to the administration, tabled, reached out, done pretty much all that we can do. And the administration has systematically ignored us. The only time we have had any response was at the town hall meetings, and they still basically skimmed past us, basically hoping that they could ignore us and we would go away. But we weren’t going to do that, and we did not want to disappear—so we decided to occupy. We decided to occupy the third floor of Kimmel in the dining area because we knew that was a high traffic area…
The idea with the demands was to shoot as high as we could because we knew that in negotiations we would be banded down. The three Take Back NYU! demands came into it, and then there were other related demands that were about student empowerment.
The Gaza issue was one, I kind of think of it as an example of choosing an issue you want the University to take on, and demanding they take it on. No one wants to see genocide in Gaza, no one wants our University to be part of that. Also to contextualize us as part of the takeovers that were happening all around the world, specifically in the UK. There has been over a dozen occupations specifically around that issue, and we were in solidarity with them and they were in solidarity with us.
My experience as being part of this group is so empowering, beautiful, and wonderful. Being there with 60-70 students, watching those people pour onto the streets in support of us, believing that we were and are changing how students are treated on a world scale. There was power in having each other. That said, being a student treated that way by NYU, that was not wonderful—that was crappy. We were asking for negotiations from the get-go. They told us they would negotiate with us if we left the building. But we had no guarantee. My group was able to rush past the guards. We got reports that NYU was pissed and told the guards to be more aggressive. NYU security guards are not supposed to touch us. The second rush became very physical because of the guards. They were shoving students. They were pushing us into other guards… This was violence brought on by the guards. When the administration busted in they were grabbing us violently, saying we had to get out. This is not okay. This is not how you treat human beings.
We are part of a worldwide student movement. We have gotten support from Rome, China, the UK, all over the country. I think that we are absolutely a part of a large movement. It’s not about us. The tuition reform is absolutely about us, but it’s more about having a more equitable society where if people want to come to University, they will have the funding and resources.
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