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NYU Game Center Faculty Write Letter Of Support For Gaza Protestors

“We’re strong believers in the meaning of games as forms of culture, and as part of the political landscape”

Student-led protests and encampments have been springing up on college campuses across the country since students at Columbia occupied an area of the school last week to protest the war in Gaza and demand the school divest from Israel. Columbia responded by calling in the NYPD to arrest its own students. Other protests have met with a similar backlash, including at New York University, where students–and faculty who linked arms to protect them–were attacked and pepper sprayed by police on Monday.

On Tuesday, the faculty of the NYU Game Center, a game design program that’s part of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, published an open letter addressed to NYU President Linda G. Mills in support of protesting students and faculty. Signatories wrote that they “cannot in good conscience stand by the decision of NYU administration to allow over 120 members of our wider community to be arrested last night in Gould Plaza, and are shocked by the lack of care shown to our student body and our colleagues. This decision has put the rights and security of students and faculty at risk, with actions that should have no room in an institution of higher education.”

The letter continues, “Your administration justified NYU Campus Safety’s intervention at Gould Plaza by calling the protests ‘disorderly, disruptive and antagonizing.’ But this is to be expected at a protest, especially given the steep cost in human lives since October 7 of last year; the stakes are very high. Safety should certainly be a concern, but as educators we should ask ourselves whether education should be disrupted sometimes when a crisis of this magnitude is unfolding.”

According to the letter, Game Center faculty participated in a campus-wide walkout on Tuesday, alongside calling on administration to “join faculty in protecting students and their right to learn, organize peacefully, and express themselves politically and artistically.” Other student-led protests have seen similar support from faculty, with Columbia faculty staging a walkout, untenured Columbia faculty–who lack the job protections of their tenured peers– writing a letter of support, and Yale faculty penning a statement in support of protesting students on their campus, among others.

Game Center Associate Arts Professor Mitu Khandaker told Aftermath, "Many of us faculty were shocked - and angered - when we started seeing the reports and videos of our colleagues being arrested. So, the impetus to write the letter really came from how many of us felt about this egregious breach of the right to peaceful free speech and expression on campus. We firmly believe that as long as there is no room for any form of hate speech, including antisemitism, political expression is a part of academic life. The reason we made it an open letter is so that our students and alumni and wider community know where we stand when it comes to protecting their freedom of expression."

The NYU Game Center campus is in downtown Brooklyn, across the river from the main NYU campus where the protest took place. But Game Center chair Naomi Clark told Aftermath that the issues at the heart of the protest feel close to her students. “Our community of students and faculty comes from all over the world, from many different ethnic, economic and religious backgrounds, including a few students whose families were very directly affected by the violence in Israel and Gaza since last fall, and many more who have been trying to support those affected, call for a ceasefire, [and] get involved somehow.”

Clark said that as a game design school, “we’re constantly aware of how important it is to remain politically engaged and to express ourselves politically.” Game design students are “creators of playful experiences, not a department of public policy or a school of community organizers,” but at the same time, Game Center faculty are “strong believers in the meaning of games as forms of culture, and as part of the political landscape.”

Khandaker said that faculty "encourage the telling of stories which are not always told in the mainstream. We have, for instance, a current MFA student, Yasmine Batniji (aka Gabbah Baya), whose thesis game (a collaboration with classmate Juanjo Hernandez) is very much rooted in their experience as a Palestinian American since October 7th, and their expression around imagining a better future for Palestine.

"For those of us from marginalized backgrounds especially, the personal is often political. We think telling such stories and sharing these untold perspectives in games is so important, both for our department and beyond."

Clark said,

Games are often presumed to be apolitical forms of escapism, with heads of large studios and game publishers insisting that their products “aren’t political” despite bearing incredibly fraught political themes… We’re very aware [of] how fraught any kind of political expression or even simple representation of diverse characters has become in the game industry — the people who yell about “games going woke” may be an increasingly tiny sliver of self-crowned consumer-kings, but they still serve as an annoying reminder that our creative expression has to emerge into a minefield. That just strengthens our resolve to engage with these issues, and tell the world what we think.

Elsewhere in the games industry, multiple game bundles have raised funds for Gaza (there’s one on sale right now), protests have taken place in Roblox, and games journalistsdevelopers, and others have raised awareness and called out wider industry silence.

Nathan Grayson contributed additional reporting.

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