Friday, February 20, 2009

Detention for you, Mr. NYU Protesters

It looks like my old alma mater made it into the news this week. Now perhaps I've become more of a reactionary in my handful of years removed from my undergrad days or maybe I was always a bit of an establishment square in the first place, but I find this whole sit-in affair completely ridiculous and frankly does little to dispel the image of NYU students being privileged, self-indulgent, out of touch, faux radicals. I've seen my share of protest groups during my undergrad year; from Killer Coke marches to anti-affirmative action young conservative rallies. What I learned is that if you want your organization and your cause to come off to the general public as obnoxious and heavy handed as possible, then doing a loud, flashy protest is the way to go.

Now I'm not saying people don't have a right to protest. The ability to do a big annoying protest is a fundamental right and I'd have great reservations about any academic institution that would actively discourage it. However, a group turns to such protests after all available means of change have been depleted. Petitions, grass roots campaigning, letter writing, are just a few of the avenues that should be explored before resorting to such drastic action. As the former head of a student organization (NYU College Bowl, raise the roof) I've found that constantly nagging and annoying officials in the administration have proven to be a lot more effect than one would expect.

In addition, if you're going to have a protest, make sure you actually have sufficient support of the public. A fringe group of sixty or so junior revolutionaries does not a movement make. Based on the internet reactions from the other 20,000 plus students, it doesn't appear that there is really an outpouring of support. Also, I don't think you're really going to form much of a student consensus in support of your outrageous list of demands (especially the whole donate excess supplies to the University of Gaza and arbitrary 13 annal scholarships to Palestinian students; have you even noticed who all the buildings are named after?).

This whole crazy affair reminds me of another group of young, starry eyed, students who in 1994 decided to become a bunch of paper protesters without understanding what the real ramifications of a protest were. You see in a season 2 episode of "Boy Meets World" Sean and Cory embarked on a similar course of action. Hip English teacher Mr. Turner promised Cory and the rest of the class that if everyone agreed to read and discuss "The Grapes of Wrath" he wouldn't give a test on it. Unfortunately when Mr. Turner is forced to break his promise to his students by Principal Feeny (who objects to this no test policy), Cory and Sean arrange a student strike in the cafeteria. The misguided protesters eventually start making more ridiculous demands like steak and lobster lunches. Feeny, sensing the situation getting out of hand, tests the strength of their defiance by playing hardball and threatening to cancel school activities like the dance (much to Sean's dismay). The hollow protest immediately collapses with leaders Cory and Sean holding the bag. At home, Mr. Turner arrives and gives them a lecture on the empty selfish nature of their protest was and how having to take a test is better than struggling to make enough money in the real world to support their families. Thus the boys learn another lesson about the titular "world."

The parallels are remarkable between the Matthews-Hunter Walkout of '94 and the TBNYU Kimmel Center Sit-In of '09. The comparison becomes more apt when you consider that after three or so days and in the face of stringent disciplinary measures by the school, all but a scant number of TBNYU protesters have left the building, demonstrating the hollowness of their "convictions". That's the last thing about protests that these fringe groups don't understand. If you're going to have a protest, you have to be willing to stand by the strength of your ideas and accept the consequences of your actions. People may disagree with your message, but if you're willing to stand up for it, they will atleast respect you. The students involved in this shoddy affair have won neither my viewpoint nor my respect. And I hope they have be subject to a stricter punishment than just listening to a lecture from Mr. Turner and making an apology to Mr. Feeny.

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