New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

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SGA calls for Gov. Hochul to sign reparations bill at rally

Members of the student government called on New York Gov. Kathy Hochul to sign a bill that would establish a commission to study reparations to African American New Yorkers at a rally in Washington Square Park.
Protestors called on New York Gov. Kathy Hochul to sign a reparations bill, at a rally in Washington Square Park. (Courtesy of Ryan Carney)

Around 25 students gathered at Washington Square Park on Friday in support of a New York state Senate bill that would establish a commission for the study of reparations to descendants of enslaved people. 

At the rally, which was organized by the Student Government Assembly’s Diversity Committee, students demanded that New York Gov. Kathy Hochul sign the bill before it expires at midnight Dec. 31. If the bill is signed, New York will become the second state in the country to take a step toward reparations, with California having passed a similar bill in October 2020. 

“One of my qualms that I have with student government is that sometimes it feels very focused on ourselves,” SGA Director of Diversity JJ Briscoe said in an interview with WSN. “If we’re really sincere about diversity, equity and inclusion, like our committee is supposed to be, then that involves our surrounding community.” 

The bill — sponsored by State Sen. James Sanders Jr. — describes the generational impact of slavery on African American communities in New York, particularly through police brutality and economic discrimination. The commission that would be established by the bill, which was first introduced in 2017, would make recommendations to reverse racial injustice in the state of New York, such as through laws and programs. In California, a similar task force estimated that the cost of reparations for the state would be around $500 billion.

SGA chair Ryan Carney said NYU has a long history of racial discrimination and progressivism, and that the university should recognize the generational impact slavery has had on its Black communities in an interview with WSN. Carney said the university’s expansion had a role in the gentrification of New York City, particularly with the opening of the Paulson Center in January 2023.

“NYU should look at its own past since 1831 to really recognize what impact it’s had on people of African descent and what remedies can we provide for future generations and future students,” Carney said. 

Several other U.S. colleges, including Harvard University, Rutgers University and the University of Virginia, have formal initiatives to examine their institutions’ histories with slavery. 

In a written statement to WSN, university spokesperson John Beckman said NYU “would disagree” with the claim that it has had a role in past racial discrimination or gentrification, saying that it “is at odds with the history of the site.” Beckman said the Paulson Center is located on what was formerly the university’s Coles Sports Center, and the site had been owned by NYU “for a considerable period” before then. 

“The economic forces that lead to gentrification in the city are far larger than the university; not every issue or problem below 14th St. can be laid at NYU’s doorstep,” Beckman wrote. “The Paulson Center serves many more purposes in a single site than Coles did before it — classrooms, performance arts spaces, student housing, faculty housing, AND a gym — a much better use of that footprint than when Coles was there.”

In a recent guest essay to WSN, Briscoe described the bill as “a potential game changer for our city and our conscience,” and cited an online petition urging Gov. Hochul to sign the bill, which has garnered more than 330 signatures. He also wrote a letter of Support for the Reparations Commission that NYU students can sign. 

“It’s just creating the opportunity for us to really build those skills of advocacy and using our voice, and then also to spread awareness,” Briscoe said. “So many things are happening; so many things are just trying to get a second of our attention. If we can try to just grab the attention for the moment on real legislation, then that’s the win.” 

Contact Aashna Miharia at [email protected].

About the Contributor
Aashna Miharia, Deputy News Editor
Aashna Miharia is a first-year studying journalism and public policy with a minor in business studies. She’s from the Boston area and a novelist, coffee enthusiast and lover of independent bookstores. You can usually find her listening to an audiobook while wandering around New York City or on Instagram @aashnamiharia.
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