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Take Back NYU, a student-run coalition of “nearly two dozen groups and hundreds of students at New York University” occupied the Kimmel Center at NYU this week to “pressure” NYU on “its administrative and ethical failings regarding transparency, democracy and protection of human rights.”
The action could be considered a good signal that students are willing to make sacrifices for change, but was the NYU occupation a good thing for NYU students? And what effect did the inclusion of a section for Palestinians in Gaza have on their “success”?
Creator of the Take Back NYU Facebook group, Clara Green, said, “Take Back NYU felt that since the administration would not willingly address our concerns, Take Back NYU would have to force them to. Take Back NYU was also inspired by the numerous student uprisings across the globe, from the uk to greece to the new school.”
What took place on campus at NYU was the result of students being inspired by student uprisings in Europe. The demand involving Palestinian aid came from demands European students are making of their universities.
At the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, students issued these demands: immediately suspend the school’s contract with Eden Springs, the Israeli water company which illegally bottles water from the Golan Heights in the Occupied Territories, review the school’s research links with BAE Systems, which provide arms and equipment to the Israeli Defence Force, establish a scholarship programme to fund 10 scholarships for Palestinian students, broadcast the Disaster Emergency Committee (DEC) campaign on campus to raise money for the reconstruction of Gaza, and pledge to donate unused equipment and non-monetary aid to the reconstruction of Palestinian universities. [bold added]
The demands in bold were demands made by the Take Back NYU Occupation. But, in the history of Take Back NYU, the Take Back NYU coalition’s demands have never included anything involving Palestinian aid or scholarships for Palestinians.
On the Take Back NYU website, a notice in caps says: “THESE ARE NOT THE SAME AS THE OCCUPATION DEMANDS. FOR OCCUPATION DEMANDS, SEE THE “OCCUPATION” TAB ON THE FAR RIGHT.”
The Take Back NYU’s student-run coalition’s demands have involved the inclusion of an elected representative from the student body in New York University’s (NYU) Board of Trustee meetings, public release of NYU’s annual operating budget, disclosure of NYU’s endowment holdings, investment strategy, projected endowment growth, and persons, corporations and firms involved in the investment of the university’s endowment funds since the group’s beginning.
So, why did the campus coalition issue a set of “occupation” demands different from the campus coalition demands? Rather, was it a good thing that they went ahead and engaged in occupation?
“Take Back NYU decided to occupy because after two years of trying to get the administration to talk to us and listen to our demands, we were unsuccessful, said Green “They consistently refused to engage in any dialogue with us.”
As explained on the “Support the NYU Occupation!” Facebook group page, members of the coalition decided they had waited too long, been pushed around “through endless red tape, through never-ending tuition hikes, through unfair labor practices, through secrecy and lies, through power being consolidated in a tiny group of (mostly) rich white dudes who know nothing about our lives as students.” The members refused to “dignify the University’s lack of response with our own inaction.”
Green and others engaged in this action because of a belief that students should “stop allowing schools to act as corporations where they put profits over students.” Yet, unfortunately, news articles and statements from the press do not focus on this belief as the underlying reasoning of the occupation; the Palestinian cause takes center stage.
Nick Jensen, NYU student and a 2009 YP4 Fellow, explained, “When Take Back NYU members and other students from other schools (note, the initial group was not even all NYU students) decided to "occupy" the Kimmel Student Center Dining Area, it was a shock to all. More shocking though was an outrageous list of demands, none of which seeming to have a common theme or similar purpose. TBNYU has no specific mission that I can now identify because in addition to full itemized budget disclosure (everything from staples to each professors salary), they demand scholarships for Palestinian students (note- no international students receive need-based financial aid), and full veto power of the budget and endowment.”
“The original intent of TBNYU is something that I would have supported, to a degree, but they have shown they are unprofessional, disrespectful, and arrogant,” said Jensen. “And this is how a vast majority of NYU students see them as well. There is nothing they could do to hurt their cause more.”
Campus occupation is a form of direct action. Like membership drives, petitions, call-in campaigns, pickets, boycotts, and town hall meetings, a direct action can help a marginalized community (like the NYU students) overcome that which is resisting social change (NYU administrators) and be very beneficial to a cause. However, it seems like students at NYU became tired of how long their organizing had been taking and shoddily threw together a student revolt.
The NYU students (and others) possibly thought that if they stepped it up to the next level by integrating a demand for Palestinians they might build more support. (A foreign policy or human rights issue may be more energizing on campus then budget or financial issues. How many anti-Board of Trustees protests have you seen?)
It seems like more bad than good will come as a result of the group's demands for Palestinians.
The integration of this demand should be a lesson to other progressive student organizers on campuses. What will the effect of this occupation have on the student’s ability to further advocate for the students and further build alliances for social change?
Students who occupied have been suspended, possibly they will be expelled, and reports from Campus Antiwar Network and Take Back NYU show that police brutality occurred during the occupation and NYU is now denying students involved in the occupation housing on campus. Will these leaders be able to continue fighting for their demands on campus?
Students must be out on their campuses boldly acting for social change, but students need to think of themselves as part of a movement. Students cannot assume that if they act it will be considered along with other student actions across the globe.
If the occupation is called a success on NYU’s campus, will it be a success because students stood up for Palestinians?
Palestinians need voices to speak out against their suffering in Gaza (and indeed more and more people, citizens and politicians, are doing just that), but a student group like Take Back NYU does not need those sympathetic to the Palestinian cause or human rights issues to convince NYU to meet their demands. (Actually, the last thing they want is NYU administrators thinking about Israel while they decide whether to lower tuition for students or not.)
Do advocates for Palestine now join the Take Back NYU coalition and then the coalition begins to fight for Palestine and the original demands become stalled? Will Take Back NYU morph into an antiwar group or human rights group?
The terrain is tough for young progressives what with all the unimaginative, un-innovative, uncreative, and hesitant students out there. But, that’s no excuse for choosing to be impatient and make hasty moves without considering what may or may not happen, without caring what the outcome of the action will be.
Take Back NYU’s action was taken without regard for the movement for social change and without thinking about the long-term vision progressives have for America.
If youth wish to lead the way forward, youth must abandon actions that make gains in the short-term but do little for the advancement of policies which will move our country further in a progressive direction.