SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: April 22, 2024

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Violence

Institution(s):New York University

Region & Country:Americas | United States of America

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On April 22, 2024, the administration of New York University (NYU) requested help from the New York Police Department (NYPD) in dispersing students who had established a peaceful “Gaza Solidarity Encampment” in Gould Plaza at the university’s Washington Square campus. Police arrested around 133 people, including students and faculty.

Around 6 am local time on the morning of April 22, students affiliated with the NYU Palestine Solidarity Coalition (PSC), established the encampment. PSC includes students and faculty from over 20 campus groups, including Students for Justice in Palestine, Faculty for Justice in Palestine, Law Students for Justice in Palestine, Shut It Down NYU, and Jews against Zionism.The protest grew to include hundreds of people by the afternoon.

Around 3:30 that afternoon, the head of NYU’s Department of Campus Safety announced that there had been “a breach in the barriers set up at Gould Plaza” by people unaffiliated with NYU and that there had been “disorderly, disruptive and antagonizing behavior that has interfered with the safety and security” of NYU’s community. Walker notified protesters at the encampment that they would face no consequences if they dispersed. In statements released following the day’s events, NYU students and faculty disputed the administration’s characterization of events. The NYU chapter of the American Association of University Professors stated that “at no point were non-NYU people knowingly allowed to join the plaza encampment” and that there was “NO incitement” at the protest. NYU’s Graduate Student Organizing Committee and Student Government Assembly Executive Committee likewise disrupted the claims of disorderly or disruptive conduct, stating that the protest was entirely peaceful.

Around 8:30 pm, NYPD officers began to arrest protesters, including NYU students and faculty members, the latter who had formed a human chain in an attempt to buffer the students from any potential police action. Around 20 faculty members were among the 133 people arrested. Those arrested had their hands zip-tied behind their backs and were loaded onto buses. Social media videos show confrontations between protesters and police. By 3:50 am on April 23, all but four protesters had been issued trespassing summonses. The four students who remained in custody were given Desk Appearance Tickets, which require an appearance in criminal court. On May 1, 2024, NYU’s president Linda G. Mills shared an email with the university community stating that fewer than half of the protesters arrested (65 out of 133) were NYU current faculty, staff, or students.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the forcible arrests of peaceful student and faculty protesters by police who were invited onto campus by university administration. While university authorities have an obligation to take all reasonable measures to ensure the safety of students and university personnel and should endeavor to prevent disruptions that inappropriately inhibit the functioning of or access to higher education, they must do so consistent with their responsibility to ensure academic freedom and free expression on campus. The punishment of nonviolent student expression undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.