One of the wonderful perks of being president of NYU is being able to live in Greenwich Village. Jennie and I love it here, from the architecture, both old and new, to the intimate parks, and, perhaps most of all, knowing that so much has happened on these very streets.
The Village is a small neighborhood, but it plays an outsize role in American history: Contemporary folk music and Beat poetry had their origins here in the 1950s and 1960s. Decades earlier, the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire on Washington Place (in a building that now houses some of our chemistry and biology laboratories) served as a turning point for US labor practices.
And, of course, the Village was the East Coast epicenter for the LGBTQ+ rights movement.
Fifty years ago this June marks the anniversary of the pivotal Stonewall uprising, which took place a few hundred yards from our campus. The uprising is widely credited with sparking and adding momentum to the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement—arguably one of the most powerful social movements of our time—which has redefined how we view love, marriage, and family.
Here at NYU, it seems only fitting that we commemorate this landmark piece of Greenwich Village history. This spring, we are proudly hosting a semester-long series of lectures, performances, exhibits, and other events to reflect on Stonewall and its far-reaching impact.
Like most of American society, NYU had a long way to come in its own commitment to the rights of people in the LGBTQ+ community. And in the decades since, we can point to many key moments: NYU had one of the first organizations for gay and lesbian students, called the Gay People’s Union, in the 1970s. NYU’s Medical Center was among the first in the nation to care for people with AIDS. NYU offered partner benefits before it was the law. NYU faculty and students were leaders in the fight against the Solomon Amendment. And in a joyous moment in 2013, we honored our own fearless alumna Edith Windsor (GSAS ’57) with the University’s Presidential Medal just three months before the US Supreme Court ruled in her favor in the victorious, landmark same-sex marriage case Windsor vs. United States. Today, NYU is renowned for the vibrancy of its LGBTQ+ communities and resources, and is often cited as one of the most LGBTQ+-friendly campuses in the nation. None of this would have been possible, however, without committed advocates in our own community.
Inclusivity and belonging are among NYU’s highest values, and we encourage faculty, students, and staff to uphold them as part of our shared mission. For much work remains, and we mustn’t slide into complacency. On the contrary, we need to press forward to examine our culture and to agitate in favor of progress.
On the one-year anniversary of Stonewall, a march took place from Christopher Street to Sheep Meadow in Central Park, inaugurating what would become the first Gay Pride March. On this 50th anniversary, as New York City hosts the WorldPride March, an NYU contingent will be out in force, and I hope you will be there to cheer on the students, faculty, staff, and alumni who participate. But until then, I hope you’ll take part in the array of events we have launched here to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Stonewall.
Stonewall will serve as the inspiration for several new mini operas to be developed by students in the Opera Lab within the Tisch Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program. The new works will be performed at NYU’s Grey Art Gallery, the Shubert Theatre, and at the Stonewall Inn itself this May.
OUTLaw, the School of Law’s organization for LGBTQ+ students and allies, recently recognized the wonderful work of its alumna Tsion Gurmu (’15). Tsion is legal director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration and founder of the Queer Black immigrant project, which provides representation to LGBTQIA+ black immigrants.
The transgender surgery program right here at NYU Langone is a national leader in providing care for transgender and gender diverse individuals, ensuring medical excellence while also tailoring procedures to fit the specific needs of each person.
Steinhardt’s Research Alliance for New York City Schools has created a guide for educators interested in elevating student voices, including concrete strategies to help students discuss race, gender, and sexuality and address homophobia and transphobia in their schools.
Associate Professor of Psychology and Neural Science Jon Freeman’s groundbreaking research on snap judgments and unconscious bias, along with his public advocacy work, has recently earned him the distinction of LGBTQ+ Scientist of the Year by the National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals. Jon has also published commentary about the importance of inclusion in STEM disciplines.
At NYU, the classroom extends into the community. We learn so much from those around us, and we take great pride in the wonderful contributions we make to the surrounding neighborhoods.
Advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion is a priority at the global sites, too, and recently Mahalia Thomas (CAS ’19) was one of our Global Equity Fellows at NYU Berlin. She partnered with high school senior Mahir Isikli, who designed an LGBTQ+ inclusion workshop for German teachers at his high school. The goal was to demonstrate how names or slurs can be harmful, shifting the atmosphere to improve the environment for all students.
I was proud to see a great turnout at so many events during MLK Week, a program that NYU’s Office of Global Inclusion, Diversity, and Strategic Innovation and the Division of Student Affairs are proud to host every year. One example was a fascinating panel Jennie and I attended that examined the intersection of race, gender, and activism in US athletics.
I love seeing NYU school spirit at its best, like at the annual All-University Games, when students come out to Chelsea Piers for a night of (friendly, of course) competition between students, administrators, and faculty. Highlights include air hockey, dodgeball, table tennis, and a tug of war.
Finally, it was such a privilege to welcome Rubén Blades—Steinhardt’s inaugural scholar-in-residence—as our first guest on the new Conversations podcast. His reflections on a childhood rich with education and creative expression helped explain how his career has branched in so many directions—from award-winning musician and actor to social advocate, politician, and government minister.