May Day walkout at NYU

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  • New York University sophomore Nour Obeidallah, a member of the NYU Sanctuary working group, talked about action efforts. Photo: Diamond Naga Siu

  • New York University students prepared for a rally and walk from Washington Square Park to Union Square following a May Day teach-out. Photo: Diamond Naga Siu

  • Iddo Tavory, an assistant professor of sociology at New York University, in Washington Square Park with his class of about 15 students during a May Day teach-out. Photo: Diamond Naga Siu


Group rallies for added safeguards for immigrant and undocumented members of the university community

By Diamond Naga Siu

Disrupting New York University classes and hosting dance parties were part of the agenda of NYU Sanctuary’s May Day walkout, in solidarity with the nationwide Day Without Immigrants. The group works toward making NYU a sanctuary campus, a term for universities to pledge to protect undocumented and immigrant community members from any entity that would marginalize them due to their status.

The university said that it already promises these safeguards.

“NYU is deeply concerned about the welfare of the immigrant and undocumented members in its community, has committed to a clear set of steps to safeguard and support them, has joined in the lawsuits challenging the executive orders on immigration and has stood together with other universities in publicly opposing recent federal policy on immigrants,” NYU spokesperson John Beckman said in a statement.

However, NYU Sanctuary wants explicit identification as a sanctuary campus and lists nine specific protections on its website. Sumathy Kumar, an NYU senior and organizer with NYU Sanctuary, said the May Day space — one for hanging out, healing and relaxing — was meant to mimic what a sanctuary would look like and what education could be in a more just society.

“We have three very clear asks for May Day that need to happen really soon,” Kumar said. “One is to declare sanctuary, the [second] is to commit financial aid and up employment for students impacted by [President Donald] Trump’s policy, and the third is to refuse Immigration and Customs Enforcement on campus under any circumstances.”

To convey their message, the main chant was a call-and-response directed at NYU President Andrew Hamilton: “Can you hear us Andy?” followed by “We demand a sanctuary.” The university did not respond to whether Hamilton heard their demands.

Kumar said the May Day demonstration created activism beyond just rallying or protesting and then leaving. Activities included educational read-ins, banners to sign as well as decorate and a free yoga class. While nobody attended the morning yoga, people engaged with the group throughout the day. About 500 attendees gathered at the event’s peak, when activists started giving speeches.

Some professors also demonstrated solidarity by cancelling classes, while others, like assistant professor of sociology Iddo Tavory, conducted class outside the room. Tavory’s “Religion and Society” class discussed politics and religion in front of the Garibaldi statue in Washington Square Park.

“I think they were a little bit cold,” Tavory said with a laugh about his students. “But it’s important for me to have a day to really think about politics, to talk about how class politics really structure our lives.”

He believes NYU must “very clearly” declare itself a sanctuary campus, because he said higher education institutions must be inclusive of all students by ensuring their safety. Kumar expressed similar sentiments and said the walkout was meant to put pressure on the NYU administration to do so.

“Obviously May Day is not the end of the campaign,” Kumar said. “Escalation will continue if the administration doesn’t declare sanctuary.”

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