Hundreds of college students gathered at Union Square Thursday for a mass walkout in tandem with Occupy Wall Street’s Day of Action to deliver an urgent message for the institutions that keeps them drowning in debt and without jobs after graduation.
Collegians from NYU, CUNY, The New School, The Julliard School, among other local institutions, gathered at 3 p.m. near the north end of the park to protest increased tuition rates and student loan debt, while also tackling discrimination and diversity (or the lack thereof) on college campuses nationwide.
An alumna from Hunter College and the CUNY university system lamented the rise in tuition rates at her alma mater, noting that CUNY used to be free until 1975.
“CUNY is my home, CUNY is my opportunity. Coming from the projects it was my only opportunity. Because of CUNY I have a better chance,” she said. “It scares me that the children of New York City may not have theirs.”
A Black college student from NYU attacked academia for failing to maintain diversity on campuses nationwide.
“I feel like the black kid from ‘Recess’ [or] like Gerald from ‘Hey Arnold.‘, he said, comparing himself to the minority cartoon characters in TV shows from the millennial generation’s childhood.
“It’s time we seize what we motherf*****g want,” he said. “If we want something we have to get it for ourselves. It’s as simple as speaking the f**k up!”
About 15 minutes in, an organizer announced that 50,000 people were watching live coverage of the event and about 3,000 people were on their way to join them. Moments later, what appeared to be fight broke out for about 10 seconds before it was broken up by bystanders. Participants nearby shouted, “This is a peaceful protest!” several times.
Later a student from Brooklyn College relayed the woes of students on the Flatbush campus stating that 14 campus security guards had pushed a general assembly meeting of 20 students out into the rain this week. She also said the security officers had been committing ongoing discrimination against the campus’s Muslim and minority student population.
Other students spoke, including a A NYU doctoral student, adjunct professor and mother of a 2-year-old who criticized NYU for offering poor benefits to its employees. She said the university provides her with a monthly stipend for daycare, which doesn’t come close to covering childcare fees.
“NYU is union-busting. NYU is not for students. NYU is not for education. NYU is for profit,” she said. [The Voice’s Nick Pinto addressed similar money-related criticisms students have brought against the university in a recent cover story this month.]
Tension arose after the protest ended when students began to head to Foley Square.
After marching down 16th Street and making a right on 5th Avenue, participants found themselves blocked off at the corner of 14th Street and 5th Avenue. Cops in riot gear had taken over the intersection. After a bit of stalling, students ultimately headed down 14th Street where they turned onto Broadway.
During the walkout, the Voice saw two helicopters flying overhead. Several groups of cops stood off to the side during the entire event. We did not witness any foul play or altercations.