The Juilliard School, one of the world’s leading performing arts conservatories, is known more for its recitals than for its picket lines. But students protesting a planned tuition hike occupied parts of its Lincoln Center campus this week and, when subsequently barred from entering a school building, led protests filled with music and dance on West 65th Street.
The protests began on Monday when a group of students, opposing plans to increase tuition fees to $ 51,230 per year from $ 49,260, occupied parts of the school’s Irene Diamond building and took published on social networks photos of dozens of multicolored sheets of paper arranged to form the words “SCHOOL GEL.
On Wednesday, the students said they received an email from the administration stating that the “school space” could not be used for non-school events without permission. “Posting signs, posters or leaflets, depositing in the lobby, soliciting or distributing printed materials also requires prior authorization,” the message adds.
The students returned to the Diamond building that day, walking the halls and stopping outside the door of the school president, Damian Woetzel. At one point, some said, they knocked on his door chanting, “We know you’re in there. Are you going to meet the needs of students and freeze tuition fees? “
Later, protesters said, they were banned from entering the Diamond building, and the school told them it was investigating an incident which included reported violations “relating to the safety of the community.” About 20 students continued their protest over tuition fees on the sidewalk outside on Thursday, waving signs and accusing the school of using brutal tactics to quell dissent.
“They made it clear that they would not listen to us,” said Carl Hallberg, an 18-year-old drama student.
Rosalie Contreras, spokesperson for Juilliard, wrote in an email that the school is increasing financial aid and raising the minimum wage for work-study jobs on campus to $ 15 an hour, and that it has special funding for students in financial difficulty.
“Juilliard respects the right of all members of the community, including students, to freely express their views at events organized within a reasonable time, place and manner,” added Ms. Contreras. “Unfortunately, Wednesday’s protest escalated to the point where public safety was called in by an employee.”
Mr Hallberg and another student, Gabe Canepa, said they were part of a campus group called the Socialist Penguins, which had called for the protests. They said they didn’t endanger anyone’s safety.
Mr. Canepa, a 19-year-old dance student, added that the students took the increase in tuition seriously because it meant they would have less to spend on “rent, groceries, metro tickets. , the supplies we need for school ”.
An online petition from the group said that “the increase in already astronomically high tuition fees” is hurting working-class students. He added: “We demand that Juilliard reverse the planned increase in tuition fees.”
Students participating in the protests said about 300 current students, or about 30% to one-third of those currently enrolled, signed the petition.
The events of Juilliard this week appear to have been less controversial than the school occupations that have taken place elsewhere in Manhattan over the years, including at New York University, Cooper Union, and the New School, where police officers wearing helmets and wearing plastic shields arrested people. who took over part of the school building on Fifth Avenue in 2009. But the conflict has taken on a jarring note.
Juilliard is also facing pressure on diversity issues. In May, CBS News quoted a black female student as saying she was disturbed by a drama workshop in which class members were asked to pretend they were slaves, while the audio of whips, from rain and racial slurs was broadcast. Juilliard told CBS that the workshop was a “mistake” and that he regretted “that the workshop caused pain to the students.”
After Wednesday’s protests, several students said they received emails from Sabrina Tanbara, the assistant dean of student affairs, letting them know that their access to the Diamond building had been suspended pending an investigation.
The next day, the Dean of Student Development at Juilliard emailed all the students, providing details on what the school was looking for. Referring to Wednesday afternoon’s protest outside the President’s office, Barrett Hipes, the dean, wrote: “Yesterday Public Safety received a report regarding the confrontational and intimidating conduct of the students which brought in an administrative assistant who worked alone in an office worrying for their own safety.
Unable to enter the Diamond building on Thursday, students staged a protest outside and urged passing motorists to honk their horns in support.
A young man was sailing West 65th Street. Mr. Hallberg strummed a guitar and another student plucked a double bass, leading a job standard chant “Which Side Are You On?” “
Some students said they felt they had been punished without due process.
Sarah Williams, a 19-year-old oboe student, said she wrote to Ms Tanbara asking what she allegedly did, in particular, that would justify her ban from the Diamond Building. She said she had not yet received a response.
“My resources were wiped out without any explanation,” she said.
Raphael Zimmerman, a 20-year-old clarinet student, said he received an email from Ms Tanbara informing him that he would be contacted to schedule an “investigative meeting” to get his activity report back to outside the president’s office on Wednesday afternoon.
“I think to say that the few minutes we spent knocking on that door and singing was harassment,” he said, “essentially denies our right to assemble and protest.”