Students held a school-wide walkout on Wednesday as part of the #SanctuaryCampus movement to protest Donald Trump’s election as president and his discriminatory rhetoric. Hundreds of students left their classes at noon and convened in Washington Square Park — later moving to Bobst Library — to stand in solidarity with marginalized and vulnerable groups on campus.
Gallatin junior Hannah Fullerton organized this walk out in conjunction with Cosecha, a national organization that focuses on undocumented people’s rights. Fullerton said that the organization reached out to her as the point person for NYU after she indicated interest to lead a walk out by submitting her name and contact information on their website.
“This immigrant rights group was calling for campuses across the country to walk out of the classroom to show that they are willing to put their bodies on the line,” Fullerton said. “This supports the most vulnerable students on campus and makes their universities become sanctuaries.”
Leaders of the protest explained that they were calling on NYU to be a Sanctuary Campus for students and faculty who feel marginalized or attacked by those who support Trump’s rhetoric. Sanctuary campuses also protect undocumented students from being reported to government authorities — making NYU a sanctuary campus is a promise to all students that they are safe from worrying about the university reporting their immigration status, even if the law changed.
The walkout was part of a nationwide movement which saw more than 100 universities asking their schools to provide a safe place for students who feel attacked for their religion, gender, race, legal status or sexual orientation.
Protesters gathered in the fountain to hear speakers tell their stories and lead chants from its center. The protest’s organizers asked people who felt most marginalized to stand closer to the center.
CAS junior Mariyamou Drammeh said she hopes NYU will act on students’ anger and fear that came about after Trump’s election.
“I’m hoping the NYU administration will, first of all, realize that we have a say as a student population,” Drammeh said. “Not only that we have a say but that our voices matter and that they will take that into consideration in terms of providing safe spaces for undocumented folks and also other marginalized communities.”
Chants included ones like “the people united will never be defeated” and “I believe that we will win.”
— Bobby Wagner (@bwags1121) November 16, 2016
The rally came in response to numerous accounts of violent acts across the nation against minorities. Drammeh said she came to the walkout to help represent the Muslim Students Association. She identified with many of the issues students were speaking out about at the walkout.
“I have a lot of undocumented family and friends,” Drammeh said. “I’m Muslim, so a lot of Trump’s rhetoric affects me and my family. I’m also African-American, low-income, and so I feel like a lot of Trump’s policies and a lot of the things he says all kind of are directed towards people in my community.”
While Drammeh’s class happened to be released early, meaning she didn’t have to miss any class, she said she had planned to walk out of her class and was not worried about the repercussions.
While some professors did not directly encourage the walkout, they said they respected whatever decision their students chose to make in light of the protest. CAS freshman Anna Sang left her Writing the Essay class and said that her professor, Jen Hyde, had emailed the class the day before outlining what students who were protesting would miss.
“She made it okay, and she’s always made it okay for us to express our opinions,” Sang said. “I think that’s why she’s letting us walk out. She wants to make it a good space for us to express our opinions.”
Students leave the park to head into Bobst. NYPD is standing by. pic.twitter.com/6Hn5OKr8Oy
— Washington Sq. News (@nyunews) November 16, 2016
Following the hour-long rally in the park, students headed to Bobst to stand for a 10 minute moment of silence, with students overflowing onto the street.
CAS freshman Wenqi Qiu also walked out of Hyde’s Writing the Essay class and said he hopes this more formally organized movement is more effective in creating change.
“This is, I think, one of the first more officially organized rallies,” Qiu said. “I feel like this will be less incendiary speech, like ‘fuck Donald Trump,’ and be more about acceptance and love.”
The rally also saw a few scattered Trump supporters clad in the signature red “Make America Great Again” hat, but confrontations were largely civilized, with a few rally attendees simply demanding that they leave the safe space that was being nurtured.
Protesters said a main goal of the rally was to provide solidarity and a sense of community for all fearful students after the election.
“I’m here to support all students, all speakers and show that I’m here in solidarity with all the communities because we’re only going to persevere if we come together as one,” Drammeh said.
UPDATE: The university responded with a statement following the rally:
“NYU respects and supports its students’ right to engage in peaceful political protest and dissent. NYU will remain steadfast in adhering to its values, supporting its students, and fostering diversity, inclusiveness, and respectful dialogue. As NYU’s president communicated yesterday, it is important to know that New York is already ‘sanctuary city,’ and that NYU has various programs in place to assist undocumented students, whose welfare we’re of course concerned about.”