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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Opinion: NYU shouldn’t have closed the Kimmel stairs

Students have the right to peacefully demonstrate, and restricting university spaces against that purpose conflicts with NYU’s values.
Empty+stairs+of+Kimmel+Center+for+University+Life+at+N.Y.U.+An+N.Y.U.+Campus+Safety+Officer+in+an+all-black+uniform+walks+down+the+main+steps.+A+black+tape+rope+blocks+off+the+bottom+of+the+staircase.
Natalia Kempthorne-Curiel
File Photo: Empty stairs of Kimmel Center for University Life on Jan. 3, 2023. (Natalia Kempthorne-Curiel for WSN)

The Grand Staircase in the Kimmel Center for University Life is a center for student activism on campus. Whether it’s to hold protests like the Young Democratic Socialists of America did to implore the university to expand abortion coverage or vigils for both students and faculty to share a common space for mourning, the staircase in Kimmel has traditionally been a space for student expression.

Unfortunately, on Oct. 12, the staircase was closed off. The university did not respond to a request for comment asking why the staircase was roped off, or whether any student organizations had recently requested to hold a gathering there. This seemingly small decision by the university restricts students’ right to peacefully demonstrate at a time where it’s more necessary than ever for many students to have their voices heard.

The reasoning behind closing the Kimmel staircase was unclear, but it came across as being due to a fear of protests over the Israel-Hamas war. Universities must strike a compromise between offering a secure and welcoming learning environment and protecting students’ freedom of speech and protest. It makes sense for the administration to be worried about student safety and potential disruptions to its learning environment, but that’s not an excuse for limiting expression.

“All members of the community have the right to peacefully demonstrate, express dissent, or express their point of view,” Campus Safety head Fountain Walker wrote in a recent safety email to students. This sentiment directly clashes with the university’s decision to shut down the Kimmel stairs.

This is not the first time the university has not been supportive of free expression on the steps. NYU previously barred the student group Students for Justice in Palestine from using the steps when they requested to hold a vigil there last semester. At the time, a student who helped organize the event said the request was dismissed by university faculty, who claimed holding the vigil on the steps would cause safety concerns. The group had to hold its vigil in the Grand Hall of the Global Center for Academic and Spiritual Life, a much more hidden space than the staircase, with only around 30 students in attendance.

Especially when it comes to the Israel-Hamas war, students have understandably strong feelings about the conflict, and some think the university has not supported its students enough as it is. For students, the Kimmel staircase serves as an open, noticeable space where they can speak their opinions and express themselves safely and peacefully. Closing the stairwell might be interpreted as silencing these voices, which could further divide the community and the connection between students and administration. 

NYU should have instead found other ways to ensure student safety, while also preserving their freedom of expression. The university administration can collaborate with student organizations to set rules that make sure events are orderly, respectful and non-disruptive. Taking these precautions will encourage a space of inclusion and respect for all points of view, enabling students to have productive discussions about impactful global issues.

As a university that has a reputation for having a diverse student body and upholding academic freedom, it’s discouraging that when it matters most — in times of national and international turmoil — it chooses to limit student expression.

While safety concerns are legitimate, NYU must cultivate an environment on campus that encourages open conversation, activism and free expression. The university should aim to create an environment where students can peacefully demonstrate and engage in constructive dialogue. By doing so, it can demonstrate its commitment to fostering a culture of inclusivity and respect, ensuring that the staircase continues to be a symbol of free expression.

WSN’s Opinion section strives to publish ideas worth discussing. The views presented in the Opinion section are solely the views of the writer.

Contact Molly Koch at [email protected].

About the Contributor
Molly Koch, Opinion Editor
Molly Koch is a junior in Gallatin concentrating in journalism as an art form. They’re fascinated by classical literature and its influence on the power of the written word. When they are not writing, you can find them reading their way through their endless TBR, running along the Hudson or Facetiming their dog.
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