College students across the country are rallying around issues ranging from rising student debt to divestment to sexual assault. These movements become stronger with each new campus group that adds its voice to the national collective, demonstrating that there is power in numbers. Yet while it is important to highlight national problems at the university level, these student groups would also benefit from collaborating to address problems within institutions. What if we took each campus in isolation and asked whether and why that campus’s student groups were dissatisfied with their school’s administration?
At the Roosevelt Institute @ New York University, we launched a Rethinking Communities project advocating for NYU to be a responsible anchor institution by investing $500,000 in two local community development banks. NYU has subsequently denied our request, citing an internal policy that it has refused to show us. This process has taken two years.
We have tried being conciliatory, working within NYU’s policies and bureaucracy. Meanwhile, NYU Divest has been working for years to be able to ask our Board of Trustees to divest from the fossil fuel industry, and has supplemented these efforts with demonstrations and protests. The Student Labor Action Movement (SLAM), frustrated with university bureaucracy, has launched multiple campaigns against the administration to promote social justice, from sit-ins to protests. These are only a handful of student groups at NYU working to create a change in our university’s policies, representative of the various tactics employed to get the university to acknowledge our presence—to simply listen.
Small contingents of dissatisfied student groups have formed, each focused on their own very specific issues. While these siloed groups may contribute to national causes, they remain small student groups with little power against a large bureaucracy and administration.
After struggling for years individually, we have formed a coalition, Whose NYU?, to create spaces where faculty, student groups, and community members can harness the collective power that we have built. We come together because we embrace learning from one another, sharing tactics, skills, and relationships. Our purpose is not to oppose authority but to demand a voice, a seat at the table. Disparate student groups are uniting with faculty and community groups to express their dissatisfaction with our administration, and engaging with union and community members who feel bullied by NYU’s administrative decisions.
On September 1, 2015, this coalition of student groups, faculty, and community members will gather in Washington Square Park to demonstrate our collective solidarity and strength in numbers. Our use of myriad organizing tactics across a range of issues, policy proposals, and requests demonstrates that the problem lies not with us, but with an administration that is neither representative nor responsive to the people whose voices most need to be heard—its students, faculty, and community.
How can an administration that purports to act on our behalf know what is in our best interests if it does not listen to us? Indeed, how can it be wedded to scholarship, teaching, and research, as it promises on every campus tour, informational brochure, and school website? We are denied information about the institution of which we are a part. We have unanswered emails and blown-off meetings when we ask for help. We are not allowed in the room for major decisions about the university or even told when or where these decisions are made. The result is a student and alumni body that is struggling with unforeseen fees, faculty who are tired of being pushed around, and a community that is being pushed out with NYU’s expansion plans and rising costs because of NYU’s real estate monopoly. The current decision-makers at NYU have failed to deliver on the necessary ingredients of a quality education: transparency, good governance, and academic collaboration between administrative departments and students.
If you are a resident of New York City frustrated with rising housing prices, please come to our rally. If you are one of countless college students across the country graduating with debt, please come to our rally. If you believe that colleges and universities should be beholden to their mission of creating a space for academic scholarship and transparency, please come to our rally. We believe in the power of building movements not by lifting up one voice or cause but by standing together and highlighting the intersectionality of all our issues. I hope you will believe with us on Tuesday, September 1, and show that we are stronger together.
Eugenia Kim is a member of the Roosevelt Institute @ New York University and the Rethinking Communities Brain Trust.