Students, faculty, and alumni of Cooper Union, one of the leading art and design schools in New York City, staged a walkout on Thursday. The school now joins the long list of US schools facing calls to sever ties with Israel amid the war in Gaza.

The walkout participants joined a demonstration in Cooper Triangle, where a 15-foot-tall banner bearing the words “FREE PALESTINE DIVEST NOW” was posed facing the facade of the college’s historic Foundation Building. The banner was swiftly removed by the police, although the protest continued on. Clapping to the beat of a drum, the group chanted, “Disclose, divest. We will not stop, we will not rest.” 

Related Articles

NEW YORK - APRIL 30: An Apple iPad advertisement is seen on top of the Apple store in Manhattan April 30, 2010 in New York City. The new iPad 3G featuring 3G cellular connectivity goes on sale at 5:00 p.m. today.  (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Apple Apologizes for Art-Crushing Ad, Pro-Palestinian Walkout at Cooper Union, Egon Schiele Ownership Dispute, and More: Morning Links for May 10, 2024

Cooper Union Show About Russian Art School to Open in the Spring Following Outcry over Postponement

Materials provided at the action detailed the demands of the demonstrators, which largely align with those called for at simultaneous protests at Columbia, the Rhode Island School of Design, the New School, and New York University. The students called for a “full disclosure” of the Cooper Union’s investment portfolio and a subsequent divestment from any corporations linked to Israel, as well as “all arms and surveillance manufacturers.”

Protestors also demanded a process by which individuals could be removed from the school’s board of trustees through a vote open to faculty, students, and Cooper Union alumni, and an end to the study abroad program at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem.

The program previously drew condemnation from students in 2010. That year, a junior from Cooper Union was reportedly blinded in one eye by a tear gas projectile shot by a member of the IDF during a protest against settler activity in the West Bank. Last month, a petition that demanded the shuttering of the program began circulating within the Cooper Union community. As of publication, the petition has accrued some 250 signatures; around 1,000 students currently attend Cooper Union.

Protestors have also accused Cooper Union administration of repressing freedom of expression and assembly on campus. The accusations include “installing surveillance systems in [studios], firing outspoken faculty members, intimidating student activists, and failing to protect Black and Brown students from Zionist attacks.” 

ARTnews has reached out to Cooper Union for comment.

Andrew, a Cooper Union student who requested to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation, told ARTnews that the school administration recently installed about ten surveillance cameras in the art and architecture school. Pamphlets distributed at the protest included images purportedly of the cameras.

“[Cooper Union administration] sees themselves as distributing rights instead of adhering to their principles about student privacy and safety,” Andrew said. “We don’t need to be policed in school spaces, especially those where we are making art. There’s performance art being made, students could be nude—there’s so many reasons why this is wrong.”

The school, while among the smallest of its kind in New York City, has a prolific history of political action. In April 2013, following decades of financial turmoil and the construction of a $160 million academic building, the college announced that it would end its free tuition policy for undergraduates. The announcement was met with fierce backlash from students and faculty, and a month later, protestors commenced a several-month occupation of President Jamshed Bharucha’s office; the movement became known as Students for a Free Cooper Union. The president resigned that fall. 

Prompted by a student- and faculty-led lawsuit, the board of trustees approved in 2018 a 10-year plan to reinstate full-tuition scholarships. The plan requires $250 million of new investments in the school.

“Today, the Cooper Union plays a grotesque game, simultaneously co-opting the radical mission of the Students for a Free Cooper Union while cracking down on anti-imperialist activism on campus during the current genocide in Gaza,” the protest manifesto reads.