Divest and SLAM Suspend Occupation After Meeting With Administrators


Echo Chen

Protestors from SLAM and NYU Divest occupy the staircase of the Kimmel Center for University Life on March 28.

Alex Domb, Deputy News Editor

NYU Divest and the Student Labor Action Movement have suspended this week’s occupations of the Bonomi Family Admissions Center and the Kimmel Center for University Life following a joint meeting with administrators, according to Divest and SLAM activists.

Activists and two administrators — Senior Vice President for University Relations and Public Affairs Lynne Brown and Senior Associate Vice President of Student Affairs Tom Ellett — met between 1:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Thursday afternoon. SLAM and Divest were allowed two representatives respectively. Gallatin senior Hannah Fullerton and Gallatin sophomore Stephanie Rountree represented SLAM, while GLS junior Ismael Ibrahim and Gallatin senior Sarah Singh represented Divest.

Divest and SLAM entered the meeting demanding a public, live-streamed, student-facilitated town hall meeting with President Andrew Hamilton, Chairman of the Board of Trustees William Berkeley, Vice Chair of the Board Daniel Tisch and a minimum of five other trustees. This proposed meeting would take place before the end of the spring semester.

The groups also demanded a follow-up meeting between SLAM, Divest and all administrators and trustees who attend the meeting, and sought a commitment that similar public town-hall meetings would be held at minimum once each year.

At the meeting, Brown and Ellett said they would need a week to guarantee a town-hall meeting. Each administrator additionally threatened the groups with disciplinary action if any of their members occupied a campus space past its closing time.

Following the meeting, Divest and SLAM released a joint statement titled, “We are Powerful and Angry: An Update,” in which activists recounted what transpired at the meeting and gave four reasons for temporarily suspending their occupation.

Reason 1 — Threat of Disciplinary Action

Representatives for SLAM and Divest were unprepared to address the threats of disciplinary action without consulting other members of their organizations.

“Tom Ellett and Lynne Brown threatened the entire occupation with disciplinary action, and refused to respond meaningfully to our demand for a public town hall,” the statement read. “The four isolated members could not subject all occupiers to disciplinary action without consulting with [other SLAM and Divest members], so they agreed to give [Ellett] and [Brown] time.”

However, activists expressed suspicion over the administrators’ refusals to immediately guarantee this town hall.

“We recognize, again, that [Ellett] and [Brown’s] request could easily be a delay tactic meant to protect the Board and President from real-time, direct interaction with students,” the statement read.

On Wednesday evening, SLAM and Divest had threatened to occupy Kimmel throughout the night — past its closing time of 12:00 a.m. — if administrators were unable to commit to a meeting on Thursday. On behalf of the administration, Brown agreed to this meeting at about 10:30 p.m. Following a heated 20-minute debate between activists, demonstrators decided to depart Kimmel for the evening.

Reason 2 — Giving Administrators Adequate Time to Organize Town Hall

SLAM and Divest acknowledge that administrators need time to negotiate a town hall with trustees. Neither SLAM nor Divest has previously demanded a town hall, and it is unclear if any activist group has brought a similar demand before the administration.

Reason 3 — Kimmel Closed for Military Funeral

On Thursday morning, Kimmel was closed to all students due to a private military funeral for NYU alumnus Christopher Zanetis. A former member of the New York City Fire Department, Zanetis recently died in a helicopter crash in Iraq. Although SLAM and Divest expressed a desire to leave the premises out of respect for the funeral, their statement criticized the event as “a decidedly unsafe space for members and allies who have been affected by state violence, and for those who are potential targets of state violence.”

Reason 4 — Activists’ Need to Rest and Strategize

SLAM and Divest, whose members occupied public spaces for four consecutive days, expressed a need to recuperate and collectively plan future efforts.

“Occupying, protesting, and negotiating takes labor and energy,” the statement read. “Both of our campaigns practice horizontal and consensus-based decision making, which is rewarding but time and energy-intensive. We need to take time for self-care.”

SLAM and Divest concluded their statement with a call for further support, citing a desperate need for additional activists to join their cause.

“We need more help from our allies and friends,” the statement read. “We could tell that you all f-cked with marching, strategizing, theorizing, chanting, singing with us this week — we f-cked with your energy too … But we need you to help and join those of us who will risk disciplinary action in the near future. We need you to spread the word and bring your energy and your friends to our rallies and teach-ins.”

Gallatin sophomore and SLAM activist Mia Wong emphasized that the groups’ activist efforts were far from over.

“We are very much still planning, strategizing and organizing,” Wong said in a text message to WSN. “I️ see this as time to 1. consider implications of escalation and disciplinary action (this could influence financial aid, housing, other important things), and 2. double our media reach out, phone banking, solidarity efforts.”

SLAM and Divest sent an email to several administrators at about 4:00 p.m. today stating their intent to resume activism if they do not receive a satisfactory response by next Friday, April 6.

“We are prepared to escalate to an indefinite occupation of the Kimmel staircase on Monday, April 9 if we do not receive a response by the end of next week, or if we are unsatisfied with said response,” the email read.

Email Alex Domb at [email protected].