Meet Sunrise NYU: A youth driven movement fighting for a greener planet

Youth-led activist organization Sunrise NYU is on a mission to create a more sustainable and environmentally just community for NYU students and New York City at large.


A picture of Sunrise NYU members protesting for policing abolition. Sunrise NYU is a chapter of the nationwide Sunrise Movement, a youth-led organization dedicated to fighting climate change, promoting social justice and campaigning for the implementation of the Green New Deal. (Photo Courtesy of Sunrise NYU)

Natalie Melendez, Staff Writer

If you’ve ever come across a group of students making protest signs in Washington Square Park or hanging environmental and social justice flyers around campus, then you’ve most likely spotted Sunrise NYU in action.

Sunrise NYU is a chapter of the nationwide Sunrise Movement, a youth-led organization dedicated to fighting climate change, promoting social justice and campaigning for the implementation of the Green New Deal.  

Sunrise NYU members holding up a sign calling people to vote and call on their friends to do the same. (Photo Courtesy of Sunrise NYU)

The Sunrise hub you see around campus today is not the same one that was active one year ago. NYU’s previous Sunrise hub was led by a small group of students, most of whom have graduated. With no one left in charge, the hub became inactive. 

Had it not been for the efforts of Tisch first-year Alicia Colomer and her friends to revive the hub, Sunrise NYU might have stayed inactive. 

“I went to high school in Washington, D.C., so I had done stuff with Sunrise DC and at Sunrise George Washington University,” Colomer said. “I was really excited to join the Sunrise NYU hub when I got to college, and when there wasn’t one, I was disappointed. I was like, ‘Okay, we got to make one.’”

With Colomer as Hub Coordinator, Sunrise NYU is now back in action and ready to inspire a new wave of students to join the fight against climate change. Its two main missions, according to Colomer, are to connect students with New York City-wide activist movements and to push for social and climate justice on NYU’s campus. 

During the Fall 2020 semester, Sunrise NYU focused on the former mission by participating in local rallies and protests, encouraging citizens to vote on election day, and assisting in phone banks for congressional candidates endorsed by Sunrise National, including California politician Audrey Denney

This semester, the organization is setting its sights on the latter goal, which they are realizing by holding NYU accountable for its unsustainable actions. 

One of the actions that the hub seeks to address is NYU’s 2031 Expansion Plan, which calls for a 6 million-square-foot expansion across Greenwich Village. Sunrise NYU opposes this plan for its disruption of local neighborhoods and destruction of green space. 

“We did a teach-in collaboration with YDSA [Young Democratic Socialists of America] about the NYU 2031 Expansion Plan,” Colomer said. “[We’re] looking at it from a social justice and an environmental justice perspective.” 

The hub has also become focused on a  more pressing initiative: NYU Divest, a campaign that demands NYU to divest from fossil fuels. 

The campaign was originally launched by a small group of students in 2015, but it ultimately failed in 2016 after the Board of Trustees elected not to divest. Though the university has pledged to reach carbon neutrality by 2040, it still has not cut ties with the fossil fuel industry. Sunrise NYU plans to change that.

“Every week we have a research hour where we research NYU’s endowment and the effects of NYU’s money going into the fossil fuel industry,” Tisch first-year and Sunrise NYU Recruitment Lead Rose Knopper said. 

Tisch first-year and Sunrise NYU member Holden Lay joined the movement to learn more about environmentalism and become more involved in grassroots activism. 

“I’m a very political person,” Lay said. “I’ve been politically involved in the past, but never really in environmental issues … I’m more involved in the social justice side of stuff, but I think that it’s really interesting to realize that [environmental and social issues are] very connected.”

Like Lay, Gallatin first-year Brianna Bellamy also said Sunrise NYU expanded her knowledge on the environmental movement. 

“I’m from Utah, so I was completely oblivious [to] the environmental issues and social issues [in New York City],” Bellamy said. “I also feel like I learned a lot about NYU’s issues, because I was just like, ‘Yeah NYU cares about climate change.’ And then I’m like, ‘Okay, they have this expansion plan, and they’re doing [other questionable things].’”

Bellamy joined Sunrise NYU as a general member in Fall 2020, but she has since taken on the role of Finance Co-lead. Bellamy helps plan fundraisers and manages donations, and has found a sense of community at Sunrise NYU.

“We spend so much of our time together, like in meetings and at actions, that we’re all super close,” Bellamy said. “[Sunrise] is definitely very community based. [We] never want [it] to feel like we’re the boss of you. No, it’s a community and we are all working together for these causes.” 

Sunrise NYU members protesting for the defunding of police force and the NYPD in particular. (Photo Courtesy of Sunrise NYU)

Sunrise NYU is always looking for new members to grow its community. To get involved in the fight for environmental and social justice, you can follow the Sunrise NYU Instagram to stay updated on their progress and find more information about joining.

“We would really love to have everyone in the NYU community come together and support [Sunrise],” Knopper said. “NYU will listen to a big pool of voices if everyone shows they care about it.”

Email Natalie Melendez at [email protected].