Hundreds gathered together at Washington Square Park partying to electronic dance music on Saturday night, Sept. 5. Some wore masks, others did not; a few appeared to be smoking something, sharing among themselves — and nobody was social distancing.
It remains unclear how many, if any, NYU students joined the party. Whether any attended the so-called “rave” or not, however, many NYU students and New York City residents alike were enraged by the gathering. All in all, the episode sparked conversations about student and university responsibility, and left students with questions, concerns and doubts about NYU’s COVID-19 response — especially regarding its execution and transparency.
According to Instagram stories posted with the Washington Square Park location sticker, the music started in the evening during daylight hours and was well underway by 8:15 p.m. The crowd, numbering well into the hundreds, was packed tightly together between the fountain and the eastern edge of the square. The gathering was reported to almost 10,000 people on Citizen, an app that sends community based safety alerts to users.
“The goal of [the protest] is to bring awareness to the upcoming election in 60 days,” 28 year old Refuse Fascism organizer from Brooklyn, Shaman, said. “We want to bring awareness that Trump potentially could have a fascist administration and implement power of a military-governmental-federal consent … We want the people to know that he’s a fascist and that [he could] potentially corrupt our democracy.”
Earlier that day, the protesters had marched from Union Square, up towards Trump Tower and down towards the Lower East Side. The march concluded at Washington Square Park, where organizers and protesters joined the party to hang out and dance; they were registering people to vote and passing petitions around, as well as the 10-amendment People’s Bill of Rights, for which they need about 110 million votes — one third of the U.S population.
“This is nationwide today,” Jamel Mims, a 34 year old organizer with Refuse Fascism and NYC Revolution Club, emphasized. “26 different cities that are taking on different ‘Trump, Pence, out now’ actions, that’s a call for refuse fascism, that’s about driving out this regime.”
Neither Shaman nor Mims saw anything wrong with the protesters joining the party and emphasized the health measures that their movements had already taken, despite the fact that Shaman was not wearing a mask.
“We saw this party happening [on the eastern side of the fountain], and we were organizing people over here [on the southern side of the fountain] at the end of our march, and just decided to join the party,” Mims recalled. “I think for the most part people here are very health conscious. Protesters are very health conscious, we sanitize all the time, wear a mask, all of that. And so I think for the most part that’s pretty generally safe. And that folks here, as long as they’re moving, as long as they’re masked up and stuff like that, it’s OK to kind of pass through there. But we don’t make it our practice or pastime. We’re leading people in the streets.”
While organizers may have seen the gathering as safe, current phase four regulations on New York City limit social gatherings of up to 50 people. Social distancing and masks are also required in public spaces. But approximately 10% of the crowd — which, again, numbered well into the hundreds — was not masked. And Shaman habitually doesn’t wear masks at protests.
“Why?” he rhetorically asked. “For one, I’ve been in the protests for about four months now without a mask. I’ve not gotten ‘rona … I would recommend going with your intuition and going with what’s your best health instead of going with what other people say … You have the freedom of liberty of speech to do what you want in this country. That’s why we practice democracy.”
As news of the crowd spread, initially, on Twitter, many NYU students — especially sophomores, juniors and seniors believing the rave to be largely composed of first-years — were seething. Some students on Twitter encouraged one another to take pictures and videos of the crowd and to identify and report raving students, demanding that the NYU administration suspend and fine the ravers. Aiming to report both gathering and gathered to NYU’s Office of Student Conduct — thereby avoiding calling the NYPD — students anonymously submitted reports to NYU’s COVID-19-compliance email.
At least one student, however, received a response from the university stating, “Thanks to the reports you and other students submitted, NYPD and 311 have started to respond to the event.”
In a statement to NYU Local, University Spokesperson Shonna Keogan denied that the NYU administration called the NYPD. Instead, the spokeswoman claimed, “when people contacted [email protected] about what was happening in the park, they were advised to call the City, because rules enforcement in City parks are the jurisdiction of City agencies.” She added that the “reports you and other students submitted” — to which the student’s response referred — were submitted not to NYU, but to the city.
Major news outlets like CBS New York, NBC New York, the New York Post and NBC reported on the “rager” and implied that NYU students had attended it. However, an NYU spokeswoman told Spectrum News NY1 on Sunday, Sept. 6, that “the university has not received any reports of particular NYU students being involved in the gathering” and added that “the safety and health rules that we’ve put in place this year apply at all times — whether they’re on campus or off campus in public parks, such as Washington Square Park.”
But later that day, Marc Wais, NYU’s Senior Vice President for Student Affairs, emailed students addressing the reports, photos and videos of “large crowds of young people” neither wearing masks nor socially distancing and reiterating that NYU’s COVID-19 guidelines apply on and off campus.
Both Shamon Lawrence, a Steinhardt sophomore and an alternate senator at large for Black students and students experiencing food insecurity, and Chris Josiah, a Tisch junior, were notified of the gathering on Citizen.
“It came as a surprise to me to see how selfish these people from other states can be,” Lawrence told WSN via Twitter direct message.
“The gathering was stupid,” he continued, adding that any NYU students attending should be suspended. “Just a few months back there were box trucks piled high with dead bodies here in NYC and the surrounding areas. So it does make me angry because when coronavirus was unbearable in the city, it was BIPOC who suffered, endured pain, and some who took their last breaths because of the carelessness of some individuals.”
Neither Josiah nor Lawrence have reported any students so far; Josiah hasn’t recognized anyone, while Lawrence is awaiting tips or clearer photo or video footage, calling it “the right thing to do.” All of this occurs against a backdrop of harsh administrative discipline of noncompliant students met with student accusations of intentional administrative opacity.
In a tweet, CAS Sophomore Ndali Brume alleged and reiterated to WSN that the administration is giving them “the vaguest possible guidelines so that no matter what we do they can point the finger at us when things go south,” adding that “vague language like ‘avoid gatherings’ and a daily questionnaire that relies on the honor system isn’t meant to keep us safe, it’s meant to reduce liability for them.”
In a Sept. 3 update to their “Community Standards and COVID-19” webpage, the Office of Student Conduct states that they’ve, “considered over 150 cases related to violations” of COVID-19 policies and “imposed a term or terms of suspension to a number of students.” More than 20 NYU students have been suspended already.
“These suspensions have overwhelmingly involved large gatherings of NYU students in indoor, off-campus apartments that lacked any form of social distancing or face coverings,” the Sept. 3 update continues. “Such events directly put the safety, health, and welfare of our community at risk and, in many instances, violate public health orders. Generally speaking, and in consideration of the factors outlined in the Student Conduct Procedures … hosting a high-risk gathering has resulted in suspension for a full academic year, while attendance at such a gathering has generally resulted in one semester suspensions.”
The Student Conduct Procedures do not directly address COVID-19 policies, but rather refer one back to the “Community Standards and COVID-19” webpage, which states “students who engage in, facilitate, or organize irresponsible and reckless behavior that puts the community at risk may face formal disciplinary action through the Office of Student Conduct.” The Sept. 3 update adds that the Student Conduct Policy “explicitly applies” to off-campus activity that, “substantially disrupts the regular operation of the University or threatens the health, safety, or security of the University community.” NYU can also take disciplinary action against students who violate “governmental orders issued concerning public health.”
Now NYU students are wondering why the NYPD responded to anonymous reports of the rave submitted by NYU students to the NYU administration. University Spokesperson Shonna Keogan told WSN via email that who responds to COVID-19-compliance complaints depends upon “which segment of our community is involved.”
“In the case of student violations,” Keogan explained, “it would be the Office of Student Conduct that would handle formal disciplinary action, and students could face suspension and removal from student housing. The NYPD has zero involvement in NYU’s on-campus enforcement efforts.”
Unlike many campus security programs across the country, NYU Public Safety officers are not sworn law officers and lack the ability to arrest people. In previous statements with WSN, university spokesperson John Beckman emphasized that NYU’s has to work with NYPD to report on campus crime because the university lacks a deputized campus police.
Since the rave was off campus — and if the university has truly received no reports of students attending the Saturday night gathering, as the NYU spokeswoman told Spectrum News NY1 — then NYU Public Safety would have zero involvement in the NYPD’s law enforcement efforts regarding enforcing social distancing and mask wearing at public parks. Despite this, NYU students still have grave concerns regarding the university administration’s involvement with the NYPD.
Lawrence said he was scared when he heard that NYPD was responding to student reports.
“I feel like [NYU] Public Safety should’ve assessed the situation and that would’ve been more effective,” he said. “Right now we’re living on speculation that NYU students were there; if Public Safety would’ve came and done a safety check and direct student to safe rides, that would be ideal. However, that did not happen.”
Josiah said he didn’t know that NYU was forwarding the complaints to the NYPD, but the idea makes him “very uncomfortable.”
Bobbie Boettinger, a Tisch senior and president of the Tisch Undergraduate Student Council, concurred with Lawrence and Josiah, stating that students who attended the party — as well as any student who does not follow the city’s and university’s COVID-19 guidelines — should be suspended.
“None of us know what could happen once police officers get to the scene and by involving the NYPD, Black students could be in serious danger,” Boettinger told WSN via Twitter direct message. “We have continued to ask NYU to cut ties and any relationships with NYPD, and as Tisch Student Council President, I will continue to do so.”
Meanwhile, according to Wais’ email, the university administration is “investigating the circumstances from [Saturday night] and any students who have violated our expectations will be subject to disciplinary action.”
“I think [the rave was] incredibly tonedeaf and dangerous,” Josiah said in a statement to WSN. “I don’t want to be the reason the entire city has to go back into quarantine. Parties and raves like this can literally kill people … I think the university should suspend students who participate in raves like this, but I think it will be very difficult for them to find the students involved. What’s more likely is that we will all have to pay the price and head back into quarantine.”
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020, e-print edition. Email Trace Miller at [email protected]