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The New York University Student Occupation

NYU President Sexton attacks Bobcats
by Doug Michel |
March 3, 2009
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The student movement has continued to push forward, taking New York University by storm with an occupation of around 80 students in the Kimmel Center. After two years of preparation, the coalition Take Back NYU! occupied the building for two days, Feb. 18. Students outwitted police to the very end, with a couple dozen moving out to the Kimmel balcony when police raided their space. Student leaders now face suspension, but they have vowed to continue the struggle.

NYU occupier Maria Lewis described the reason for the occupation in Let Them Talk: “Students came together…really feeling like we wanted a more transparent and accountable democratic university. There’s very little transparency at NYU.” The Take Back NYU! Coalition started as a way to unify over 20 student organizations on the issues of democracy, accessible education, divestment from Israel and opposing U.S. wars and occupations. After two years of writing letters and lobbying the administration through the student senate, the occupation began.

The list of demands from Take Back NYU! includes full compensation for all employees whose jobs were disrupted during the course of the occupation, public release of NYU’s investments, labor rights for student workers and all NYU employees, a Socially Responsible Finance Committee, annual scholarships for 13 Palestinian students, a NYU donation to rebuild the University of Gaza and tuition stabilization for all students. The most pressing demand was the immediate investigation of university war profiteering, particularly in the case of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

Students barricaded themselves into the third floor area while 500 supporters cheered outside in solidarity. Students used the balcony to proclaim their occupation and list their demands. The entire Kimmel Center building was shut down for two days.

During the occupation, solidarity letters poured in from across the nation. Chapters of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), whose national media working group facilitated media work during the occupation, vigorously supported the takeover. “We support the demands by Take Back NYU! and SDS in their effort to oppose U.S. imperialism and the military-academic complex,” one statement from UNC-Asheville SDS reads.

On Feb. 20, students announced from the balcony that they received word from NYU President Sexton that they were ready to negotiate face to face. For two days Sexton and the university administration continued to be silent to their demands. In an act of ugly deceit by President Sexton, 25 riot cops burst into the Kimmel Center and cornered the remaining students. 18 students were suspended for a week. The university is barring them from campus and participating in student organizations. They also imposed a period of disciplinary probation for the remainder of the semester. A recent Take Back NYU! statements declares, “We might be suspended for the moment, but NYU’s actions have made even more clear the necessity for democracy, transparency, accountability and respect for human rights.”

This latest student occupation came after two other successful occupations by the Radical Student Union at New School University and SDS at the University of Rochester. Internationally, there has been a flurry of occupations in Britain and throughout Europe in the past two months since the U.S.-backed Israeli invasion of Gaza. Student activist groups like Take Back NYU! and SDS continue to press forward the struggle to democratize universities and oppose U.S. wars and occupations.

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