On Wednesday afternoon, dozens of students protested and made their way past University Police in the Student Activities Center to show their disapproval for a proposed hotel to be constructed at the main entrance of Stony Brook University.
The marchers were part of the Stony Brook Conservation Collective, a coalition of members from several other clubs on campus. The group of about 30 held signs made of cut up cardboard, recycled posters, and even cut up cereal boxes with paper towel rolls.
With the help of a megaphone, slogans such as “We pay the fees! Don’t cut our trees!” and “It’s bullshit! Get off it! Your hotel is for profit!” caught the attention of passersby on the academic mall.
Nearby, Nazma Niles collected signatures for a petition to be presented to President Stanley.
“We’re asking them to reconsider their location for building the Hilton hotel if to build it at all,” said Niles. “Just today, over 100 people have signed.”
Not everyone was impressed. Three women walking out of the Administration building joked that the students “don’t realize their signs are made out of trees.”
Campus police were on hand for the rally as well, and kept a close eye on participants. At first, only one officer trailed the rally, but by the time the march moved back towards the SAC, six members of campus police and security watched from a distance.
All six officers had their hands full at the SAC, where protestors learned that President Stanley was attending a Veteran’s Day event in the auditorium. The marchers attempted to enter the SAC, but were stopped by Campus Police.
For several minutes, the confrontation went back and forth, with students claiming that they had the right to enter the building as long as they weren’t disruptive and police insisting that the very presence of the protestors would disrupt ongoing activities.
Rally organizers came equipped with a copy of the university’s official policy on entering buildings though, and organizer Andrew Greco ended the argument by walking in holding his sign anyway. Most of the group followed.
For several minutes they occupied a part of the steps in the main lobby. The protesters were satisfied standing there until the Veteran’s Day event ended, when they tried to relocate to the front of the auditorium to catch the attention of President Stanley.
He was long gone, though. After the event, he was escorted out of the building through another hallway, and steered clear of the main lobby where the protestors were assembled.
Rally leaders, not satisfied that they had gotten Stanley’s attention, decided to march silently past his office in the administration building. Campus police guarded the closed door while protestors walked in a single file line past it. When they had left, the officer guarding the door opened it and assured everyone inside that it was safe.
After the event, we spoke to Greco about the goal for the rally.
“We are trying to press administrators to promise they wont level that forest,” he said. “We’re asking Stony Brook to change the location now.”
An ongoing lawsuit has put plans for the hotel, reported first in Think Magazine, on hold. But an injunction against the university from developing the plot of land in question was recently lifted, removing any legal barriers stopping the university from demolishing trees.
The lawsuit, however, has not been resolved. Marchers are demanding that the university commit to leaving the land intact until the suit is resolved in the courts.
“I don’t see how they could win because the land lease has expired,” said Greco. The lease, granted by New York State decades ago, outlines the area directly across Circle Road from the administration parking garage.
Wednesday’s march came after previous, more diplomatic attempts to air their grievances over the hotel with university officials
The Environmental Club attempted to get answers from the University Senate, but they were turned away from a November 2 meeting. That, says Greco, is why they had this rally.
“We’ve tried the legitimate way, we’ve tried the legitimate routes. We made an appeal in front of the University Senate and it was dismissed.”
Stony Brook University spokeswoman Lauren Sheprow issued a brief statement on the hotel, and the ongoing litigation.
“The University and the developer are interested in proceeding with the hotel project, but as yet have not discussed the court’s most recent decision,” she said via email Wednesday evening.
Reporting was contributed by Adam Peck; Photography by Klara Huszar for Think Magazine.