By Maya Brown and Samantha Robinson
Stony Brook University students gathered around the fountain at the Academic Mall during campus lifetime on Wednesday, March 11, to demand answers from university administration about how it would handle the coronavirus pandemic.
“Should we storm Admin?” one user asked late Tuesday night. “If we all gather and demand answers in person they might do something.”
Another user posted Wednesday morning: “PROTEST AT ADMIN BUILDING 1PM.”
The user reminded readers to “remain calm and courteous” below the announcement.
“We’re there for answers nothing more nothing less,” they wrote. “If they tell us to leave, we leave. Just showing up in numbers is probably enough to ilicit [sic] a response.”
About 150 or 200 students were at the protest, according to university police estimates. They clapped and chanted, “send us home, pay us back,” as they approached the administration building.
“I came out today because there is definitely an irresponsible lack of communication between Stony Brook’s administration and students,” a student who wished to remain anonymous said. “I do know that I came out because I feel as though personal safety is not at the forefront.”
Dana Franz, a junior environmental humanities major, said that she wanted to find out what was happening.
“It seems like there’s a huge Reddit community right now that’s talking about a lot,” she said. “So I’ve seen emails from many professors saying that they’re taking their classes online, that all classes might be online after March 23.”
After a short rally around the fountain featuring chants and student speakers, students began to head towards the administration building while yelling, “Send someone.” Several students made it near the doors, though campus police guarded the entrance.
Christine Amarillo, director of student engagement and activities, stood near the entrance and handed out SB Engaged flyers explaining what protesters can and cannot do. Entering the building would have been a violation of those rules.
About thirty minutes into the protest, Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students Richard Gatteau came outside to address the crowd.
“We’re all concerned about the safety and health of all of you on our campus,” he started, standing on the fountain, before a student interrupted him.
“No you aren’t,” they shouted. Gatteau paused as the crowd booed. “We need answers!” someone else yelled.
“I’m here to support all of you, and we’re trying to make the most informed decision for the campus,” Gatteau said. He urged students to watch Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s upcoming press conference and said an official campus announcement would follow the conference.
Several students interrupted Gatteau’s speech towards the end, shouting “refund” and “will you reimburse us?”
The crowd dispersed after he spoke.
Cuomo announced that state universities would be going remote only a few minutes later. The university sent a campus-wide email two hours after.
Many students said they used the “SBU” subreddit as a source of information and platform to express their thoughts.
Grace Noonan, a sophomore biology major, said that her information mainly came from reddit posts and online news articles — nothing from the school.
“We are just totally in the dark about everything,” she said.
Rumors that the university would go remote for the rest of the semester after spring break began circulating on Monday. The university did not address the rumors until after Cuomo’s announcement, though it sent two emails Wednesday morning that claimed Stony Brook was evaluating potential solutions.
Nabheel Rahman, a senior political science major, said those emails did not answer any of his questions.
“They sent two emails today that said the same thing and they’re pretty useless I think,” he said.