Slack Chat: How can student activists better leverage NYU?

sdevlin (Sayer Devlin, Managing Editor): Welcome to our inaugural Slack Chat! In the past few weeks, NYU’s Student Labor Action Movement and NYU Divest have conducted a flurry of activism. Today’s topic of conversation: how can student activists better leverage NYU to have their demands met?

tycrews (Tyler Crews, Opinion Editor): So with the current stuff going on with SLAM and Divest and the Kimmel Center for University Life occupation, it seems like protesters can’t leverage NYU at all, or at least not in the way that they’re going about it.

natasha (Natasha Roy, Managing Editor-at-Large): I think it’s important to preface that this wasn’t the first, or even one of the first, efforts by SLAM or Divest to try putting a student on the Board of Trustees.

tycrews: Exactly, this is one of many attempts, and they don’t even have contact with the board. And this wasn’t even about putting a student on the board, they literally just wanted a Town Hall meeting.

vdawg (Victor Porcelli, Deputy Opinion Editor): They won’t leverage NYU through action, NYU has too much power over them in that situation.

tycrews: So you mean that they are automatically putting themselves in a position where NYU has the power?

vdawg: Yep.

natasha: This has been going on since 2016. I’ve seen a lot of people on Facebook lash out at SLAM and Divest for trespassing on property and being seemingly too strong, but there’s been a lot of buildup that led to this past weekend’s occupation — they’ve petitioned the board, protested during the 2017 Weekend on the Square and even met with Andrew Hamilton, and their efforts still haven’t been taken seriously enough to warrant a sit-down with the board. I think Tyler’s right — they’re hitting a dead end, but it’s also not their fault.

vdawg: Not blaming them, but the result is the result.

natasha: It might take a coalition of more than two campus clubs to get the administration’s attention.

sdevlin: So everyone here seems to agree that their forms of protest haven’t been effective?

natasha: Yeah, it’s been ineffective, but I think it’s because the board isn’t willing to listen. I do think they’ve done as much as they can at this point, on their own, at least.

tycrews: I mean they could have stayed over. They may have faced action, but they put themselves in that situation knowing that they could face disciplinary action.

vdawg: I was surprised that they were surprised at what happened.

natasha: But they would have risked scholarship money, and I think it’s respectable that they felt their education was more important at the end of the day. I was surprised that NYU called their parents.

tycrews: But then they should have chosen a different place to protest!

natasha: I’m sure they expected disciplinary action, but not that. Also Tyler, Kimmel is so symbolic — it’s literally the center for university life, and it’s where they would have been the most visible.

vdawg: Why not that? It is customary for NYU to contact parents when their students are at risk of losing their status as students.

natasha: Why would parents be called if the students are adults?

tycrews: Because it worked! Why do they care that their parents were called if they’re adults?

sdevlin: Let’s break this down. As one of our copy editors put it, “wtf, this isn’t high school anymore.”

natasha: It totally worked, but personally, if I were to go into that situation as someone who identifies as a (fake) adult, I’d expect to be taken seriously and treated like one. I think in this case, it’s really easy for hindsight to be 20/20. And we should also talk about the fact that the university threatened students’ very ability to go to this university because they wanted to change the school to make it better for others.

tycrews: Regardless, they put themselves on the Kimmel steps and broke the rules. That was like handing their fate over to NYU.

vdawg: I mean their parents are most likely, at least in part, paying for their housing and tuition — they have a right to know that their kids are at risk of losing housing or financial aid.

natasha: Which, like y’all are saying, is why their parents were called. Do you think it’s fair to take away scholarship money from someone who’s peacefully protesting?

tycrews: No, I think that’s too far.

vdawg: I think they knew the threat would work. There is a difference between threatening and doing it.

tycrews: So you don’t think they would have followed through?

vdawg: Who knows? I think they knew it would work, and so didn’t have to worry about that.

tycrews: I think it’s too far, but at the same time, the protest was disruptive and it forced a security officer to stay there.

natasha: I think the term that’s being used to describe the university’s actions — “psychological warfare” — is a little too strong, but it also is pretty manipulative if NYU didn’t actually intend to go through with it.

tycrews: Well what’s f-cked is that they had different threats for different people.

natasha: Exactly! It’s totally unfair to single people out to hit them where it’ll really hurt. Students should be allowed to want to improve their university.

vdawg: They are.

natasha: We’re paying to go here, and we should be allowed to have the best experience possible and have the opportunity to try and create that for ourselves.

tycrews: I disagree. We should, but not when it’s considered trespassing you know?

You can’t expect NYU to be like, ‘Yeah sure, go ahead!’

vdawg: SLAM and Divest don’t speak for all students anyway.

tycrews: ^elaborate

Because I think most students want representation on the board, increased transparency and communication.

vdawg: That’s fair. I guess the methods are the most problematic.

natasha: I think NYU should have at least been able to see that this was something important to students, and if they wanted students out of Kimmel, [administration] should have offered to sit down and hear them out. It was wrong to just dismiss them altogether.

sdevlin: Another important question here: why is NYU and the board so hesitant to talk to students?

natasha: I think the administration/board have mad secrets.

tycrews: Because they’re doing sketchy things!

vdawg: Either that or they don’t respect us.

natasha: There have been so many sketchy things about this university that have come out over the years (see: NYU Abu Dhabi basically using slave labor). And having students on the board would make it so much easier for all this to come out. Especially students from a group that wants to hold the university accountable.

vdawg: Yeah, and there are other universities with students on the board.

tycrews: I think it’s the structure that they are asking for that is the problem. They want a Town Hall meeting that is public/livestreamed and has students talking at the board, instead of a conversation.

sdevlin: What other avenues could students use to gain more power? Is it student government (who issued their own statement on the situation)? Is it different methods of protest?

tycrews: LOL NO. Student government doesn’t really have influence over the board.

tycrews: The board has voted against a University Senate approved thing before. And also it takes forever for the student government to vote and then get the trustees to vote.

natasha: And I don’t think the mission of the student government is to hold university administration accountable — In the same way SLAM wants at least.

natasha: Safe to say that was a hard no from everyone lol. Also, if I’m not mistaken, Hamilton hasn’t had a Town Hall in over a year. The last one we wrote about was in late March 2017. Wait, he hosted one for administrators in October 2017.

sdevlin: Perhaps protesters at Howard University could be an example then?

vdawg: HU students obviously did not give in to threats of disciplinary action. You need more students to do that though, because if it’s only 19 students, they can easily threaten disciplinary action.

tycrews: Were there even threats of disciplinary action though? But yeah more students, so many more students. Like our school is huge and only 19 stayed over, and everyone wants this, but nobody wants to face the disciplinary action. If we had a ton of students, the risk of disciplinary action would be lessened.

vdawg: HU’s occupation had over 100 students.

natasha: To go back to the original question of how students can leverage the administration (if at all), I think Divest and SLAM should consider allying with more on-campus clubs.

tycrews: Nah dude, they need to do this somewhere else. Like if they do it during Weekend on the Square with prospective students and parents, they will put NYU in a corner. NYU will more likely enforce disciplinary action, but when students don’t back down, they’ll do whatever it takes to shut it down, which will include potentially meeting demands.

natasha: NYU is a private institution, so they’ll presumably face the same repercussions in any NYU building they choose. They did that last year and didn’t yield the results they wanted. This didn’t yield a discussion/Town Hall meeting with administration or the Board of Trustees.

sdevlin: OK, to conclude, let’s focus on what SLAM and Divest should do moving forward?

natasha: I personally think they should focus on building a coalition of multiple clubs that support their mission — there’s power in numbers.

vdawg: Either protest with more people in a similar way and stick to their guns (if they’re willing, I definitely would be too chicken for that, but maybe they aren’t).

tycrews: Moving forward, they need to consider all potential disciplinary action before doing something. They need to know the risks and come to terms with them, or else they will bail later and seem uncommitted.

vdawg: Or they should continue to protest in a way that could not result in disciplinary action.

tycrews: Yeah, like get off the Kimmel steps.

natasha: Their efforts to protest in a way that wouldn’t result in disciplinary action haven’t been enough to yield a response. They should have been, but it hasn’t worked with this administration and this board

tycrews: Or get more faculty involved! They need to have more manpower. I’m sorry, but the administration sees 19 people as nothing.

natasha: Tenured faculty* — are safe.

vdawg: I mean could faculty be threatened for supporting them? Are you saying faculty that are safe should also stay over at Kimmel?

natasha: I think tenured faculty staying in Kimmel would be a huge statement.

vdawg: Maybe the amount needed to sway the board is too much. Maybe it’s unfair to ask students to put something like tuition on the line, but they have to be more committed in the future if they really want change.

natasha: Admin also shouldn’t put them in a position where they have to choose between a scholarship or what they believe in.

vdawg: Leads to asking how worthwhile what they are fighting for is.

natasha: There’s only so much students can do without having to give up an education because of administration threatening their scholarship money

tycrews: True. Part of this is on other students I guess. Like so many students share their stuff on Facebook and bring donuts and say they believe in the mission, but then they don’t show up when it counts. It’s on the student body to actually care,

vdawg: Well, if they don’t, what does that say about the movement?

natasha: They need to collab way more with other groups. NYU students generally don’t pay attention to things at NYU. So maybe SLAM should focus more on recruitment/allyship.

vdawg: Yeah I agree.

sdevlin: This seems like a good place to wrap up.

tycrews: Good talk guys, good talk.

vdawg: Nice memes.

natasha: My anger has simmered.

tycrews: Glad we got these feelings out.

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This transcript was edited for length and clarity.