Students Stage Sit-In for Gaza at NYC’s School of Visual Arts

Student activists staged an ongoing sit-in at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) today, May 2, refusing to leave the school’s administrative offices until leadership agrees to divest from companies tied to Israeli military attacks on Palestine. The action comes at the end of a week of ongoing student-led protests for Gaza that have been met with hundreds of arrests across New York City and the United States.

Led by the SVA’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), around 20 participants gathered in the ground-floor offices of SVA’s residential building at 344 East 24th Street in Manhattan. While the offices are usually open on weekdays from 9am to 5pm, administrators announced that they would be closing the spaces at 1pm a little more than an hour after the sit-in began, an SVA spokesperson confirmed to Hyperallergic.

The school initially warned participants that they would be trespassing if they did not vacate the offices, and the sit-in dwindled to just four participants by 5pm. SVA administrators are now allowing the students to remain in the building until Monday, May 6, Quito Ziegler, a humanities teacher at the university who has been helping SVA SJP in their talks with the school, told Hyperallergic.

Earlier in the day, the New York Police Department sent over two officers for what an SVA spokesperson referred to as a “wellness check” after building security alerted police about the action. The spokesperson told Hyperallergic that the school is “committed to supporting free speech and engaged citizenry among our community.” 

Signs and posters outside the school

More than 50 protesters including students from SVA, the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), and New York University (NYU) rallied outside the building on the sidewalk, referring to SVA as the “School of Violent Apartheid” and covering the building’s facade and sidewalk in signage and chalk illustrations in support of Palestine. 

Student organizers announced the sit-in action on Instagram alongside a list of demands, including a call for the SVA to divest from Israeli weapons manufacturers and for SVA President David Rhodes to publicly condemn Israel’s actions. The group is also asking that the school end its partnership with Hillel International, an organization funded by the American Israel Public Affairs that provides “Jewish learning and Israel education programs” to SVA students via Baruch College. 

While the action has been generally met with support from faculty and passerby, who have also encouraged student protesters by honking car horns and raising fists in solidarity, it has also been faced with confrontation. At one point in the afternoon, an individual from Brooklyn who refused to disclose his name to Hyperallergic repeatedly shouted at demonstrators, asking whether “they supported Hamas.” He became further agitated when he attempted to film the action and a protester deliberately blocked his phone camera with a blue umbrella. 

The protester, a student who also declined to give their name and would not disclose their school to Hyperallergic, confirmed that they intentionally blocked the camera to “prevent protesters’ faces from being captured.”

“When I went [to SVA], I saw it as this really cool, scrappy art school that had this reputation of a down-to-earth place,” Meryl Ranzer, a 1986 graduate of SVA who currently teaches courses on product development at FIT, told Hyperallergic. “Now, it’s basically a hedge fund like every other college.”

“I have a 17-year-old and there’s a part of me that wants to send him to the same school,” Ranzer continued. “Hell no. I would not want him coming here because it’s really clear that their motivation is ‘How do we expand and gentrify the city like Columbia [University] has?’”

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