Students carrying handmade signs painted with slogans such as “What About the Salamanders” and “Save Your Trees” gathered in the Students Activities Center plaza to protest the planned university Hilton hotel during campus lifetime on Wednesday.
The demonstration took place in the wake of a recent development in a lawsuit filed against the school by an environmentalist group known as the Stony Brook Environmental Conservancy: the throwing out of a temporary restraining order preventing the university from beginning construction of the hotel.
The event was organized by the Stony Brook Conservation Collective, or SBCC, a branch of the Stony Brook Environmental Club founded with the goals of “environmental activism and preservation of undeveloped space.”
Andrew Greco, the environmental club’s vice president, said that the collective was founded this semester “as an activist response to being dismissed on all formal levels of having its opinions heard by the university.”
However, the protest was not limited to just these two groups; it featured a mixed coalition of student organizations such as the Social Justice Alliance, the LGBTA and the Radical Student Union. The crowd marched from the Student Activities Center, or SAC ,to the Administration building with Greco at its center.
With chants such as “it’s bullshit, get off it, your hotel is for profit,” the megaphone wielding environmentalist’s protest contrasted sharply against a silent demonstration against Arizona’s anti-illegal immigration bill, SB1070, which was being held at the same location.
Greco brandished a simple cardboard sign that read “RELOCATE” in turquoise paint as he directed the throng through the academic mall. He said that his organization was not against the construction of the hotel, but only its location. Protesters cited a myriad of alternate locations— near H-Quad, built on top of the Union, or near the hospital. Greco himself favored the area around the train station as a potential building site.
“I think the hotel would bring a profit to the school,” Efal Sayed, a student and bystander said. “But at the same time, I’d rather see it built somewhere outside of those woods.”
The eleven acre patch of forest proposed as the hotel’s construction site also functions as an outdoor laboratory for at least 1200 biology students who are enrolled in the Biology 204 course each semester. It’s home to an abundance of flora and fauna, and is one of the few areas on Long Island where both color morphs of the Eastern Red-Backed Salamander interact, according to Caitlin Fisher-Reid, biology graduate student and researcher.
“What they’re doing is paving over a classroom for students, so that they can build a private hotel at a public university,” said Mike Carley, a member of the Radical Student Union and one of the leading figures at the protest.
After picketing at the Administration building, the crowd shifted its attention to the SAC, where it hoped to directly confront President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. at a Veteran’s Day event he attended, which was hosted by the Veteran Student Association.
They were met with resistance from administrators and campus police when they tried to enter the building, and were relegated to a ramp at the side of the lobby.
“We support your right to protest,” said Associate Dean of Student Life Dr. Susan DiMonda to the crowd. “But letting you interrupt this event isn’t fair to the Veteran Student Association.”
The protesters missed Stanley by a matter of moments. They formulated a plan to rouse his attention by marching past his office, located in the Administration building.
“He slipped out before we could even see him,” Carley said, urging the crowd out of the SAC. “We’re going to march in, let him know we’re here and show him that we’re pissed that he slipped out the back door.”
Greco directed the students into the building, urging them to remain quiet and form into a single file. The line of demonstrators snaked its way through the stairwells, passing Stanley’s office, and eventually leaving the building as silently and swiftly as it had arrived.
Regarding the efficacy of the march past Stanley‘s office, Greco said that he had not yet received any responses from the president or his administration. Greco plans on submitting his group’s petitions directly to him.
“And yes, we will be planning more protests,” he said.