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New School Faculty Follow Students as Campus Occupiers Against Gaza War: ‘The Blood Is on Our Hands’

With police arresting and dispersing their students, faculty said, it is time for faculty to escalate their own calls for divestment from the war on Gaza.

Faculty pitched tents in the New School lobby Wednesday afternoon. (Nick Pinto / Hell Gate)

At 2:00 p.m. Wednesday afternoon, the movement calling for university divestment from the Israeli war on Gaza was at a low ebb in New York City, the last existing occupation, at the Fashion Institute of Technology, having been raided and dispersed by the NYPD the night before.

At 2:01 Wednesday afternoon, a new and different Gaza solidarity occupation sprung up, as faculty at the New School marched into the lobby of the New School University Center on Fifth Avenue and erected half a dozen tents, taking up the demands of their students who had been arrested and suspended following a raid on their encampment by the NYPD early Friday morning.

"The Israeli military has slaughtered over 40,000 people in Gaza," reads a press release faculty read aloud after the tents went up. "As we restart the New School Gaza Liberation Encampment, bombs rain down on Rafah, where over 600,000 children are trapped. U.S. funds, U.S. weapons, U.S. endorsement continues unabated. Every university in Gaza has been turned to rubble. As our students have taught us, we cannot in good conscience permit our campus to return to normal. As education workers, we refuse to be complicit in scholasticide and genocide."

As the faculty erected their tents, their number were relatively few—around 20, constituting an autonomous group unaffiliated with other faculty or student organizations. "This is the first faculty encampment in the United States," read a part of the statement they read aloud. "We hope it will not be the last."

Speaking shortly before the new occupation began, one faculty member taking part, Suneil Sanzgiri, told Hell Gate that the group felt compelled to take up the demands of the students after the school administration coordinated with police to suspend and arrest them. "The administration was repressing student voices during a genocide," he said. 

"Of course we're concerned about our job security," Sanzgiri said. "But right now, the focus is on Gaza. The focus is on Rafah. The focus is on the unprecedented violence unleashed by this administration on 18 year olds."

The faculty are hoping that their example will inspire faculty at other universities where student protests have been repressed to follow their example. "This is a pivotal moment," Sanzgiri said. "We're not saying that that faculty haven't already stepped up, but this is an urgent call for increased escalation and risk by other faculty. Many faculty have been putting their bodies and their careers on the line all across the country just as students have, but when students are being repressed and their voices are being silenced, we have to step up."

Sanzgiri emphasized that the goal of the faculty is a practical and material one: to get the administration to concede to the students' demands for divestment. "We are looking to negotiate," he said.

The New School administration did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

While the occupying faculty are also calling on the administration to bar police from campus and reverse its punishment of student protesters, its primary focus is on the New School's financial ties to the war on Gaza.

"The core demand is divestment, which says that this school is killing these children," Sanzgiri said. "This school is the one killing the children. This school is invested in 13 out of 14 of the weapons manufacturers identified as literally funding and aiding and supplying weapons to killing 15,000 children and counting, 40,000 people and counting, 50,000 people missing. Twelve universities and 70 educational complexes wiped out of existence. This is not a far away issue—the blood is on our hands."

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