If there is one commonality that connects all NYU students, it is the love of political protest. Despite our many differences, it seems that nearly every student can at least agree that they are all outraged about something. Mass demonstrations are as common of a sight for NYU students as streets lined with yesterday’s garbage and people who somehow still don’t know how to properly use a revolving door. However, some methods of on-campus protest are significantly more effective than others.
The Incarceration to Education Coalition’s protest at Kimmel and the occupation of Bobst by NYU Divest were two of the most followed demonstrations on campus last semester. While the high visibility of both of these events is indisputable, it is important to note the differences in achieving actual goals between the two protests. The IEC protest resulted in surging support from the community, while the occupation by NYU Divest was met with a somewhat lukewarm response in comparison. These factors led university officials to deal with each situation much differently. NYU officials threatened Divest activists with suspension and academic probation, while the Ban the Box occupation partially succeeded despite being threatened with disciplinary action.
The community and the administration’s responses are revealing. Putting aside any arguments over which cause resonates more with the student body as a whole, one key factor stands out: location. Both protests chose locations close to epicenters of NYU activity, but the NYU Divest group chose a Bobst elevator as the site of their protest. Far from inspiring community-wide support, the Divest protest became more of a source of frustration for students trying to go about their day.
While the library may seem like an ideal place to force the facilitation of discussion on key issues, in actuality, it could not be a worse choice of location for a mass demonstration. Events such as these require the community to side with the protesters and to support their efforts to sway the minds of administrators, and the least effective way to win the hearts of other outrage-prone Bobcats is to forcibly interrupt 10 floors of studying students with chanting and slogans.
With this in mind, it is not surprising that few Bobst-centered protests so far have gone on to prompt actual change. While the recent NYU SLAM demonstration outside of Bobst achieved some administrative success, few students outside of the group itself got involved. It lacked the wider community support shown by IEC’s protest. To attract people to their cause, activists need to station themselves in a place where their demonstrations are a welcome interruption, not a nuisance.
A version of this article appeared originally online here, and in the Monday, September 26th print edition of Washington Square News.