Students at Stevens Institute of Technology protested the opening of the Gianforte Family Center, one of two buildings which comprise the $68 million Gateway Academic Center at the intersection of Sixth and Hudson streets.
In 2017, alumnus and Montana Rep. Greg Gianforte donated $10 million to the school and pledged an additional $10 million if the school would name a building after him and acknowledge his parents.
The school announced the $20 million donation and the Gianforte Academic Center later that year causing student, alumna, and resident protests.
The backlash stemmed from Gianforte’s controversial and conservative views and donations, mainly against the LBGTQ+ community and denial of climate change as well as his assault of a journalist during an interview.
Stevens attempted to quell the concerns by renaming the building the Gianforte Family Academic Center in September of of 2017. It was revised in 2019 after Gianforte pulled his $10 million pledge.
This resulted in the building being named the Gateway Academic Center composed of a Gianforte Family Hall in the north, and a South Hall attached by a sky bridge, according to the student newspaper, the Stute.
The protest, organized by students Nasir Montalvo, Adrian Castellanos, and Eli Trakhtenberg, was about more than the name of the building.
“We decided to protest, not only about the naming of the building because we didn’t see how feasible it was that the name would change at this point as there were already protests and a concerted effort for that … but for more student-centricity,” said Montalvo. “The naming was more like the last straw.”
The organizers said they feel the Gianforte controversy is representative of larger issues facing student life on the Stevens campus.
They treated the protest as a launching pad to send a 14-page proposal to the administration outlining the need for reform.
Proposal requests include mental health initiatives, more administrative transparency, a formal space for prayer, and the need for more and better-attended Safe Zone Training to promote tolerance of diverse gender identities and sexual orientations.
The proposal also demands that the university’s president, cabinet, and board of trustees publicly condemn the “discriminatory values, the same values shared by Greg Gianforte, in a campus-wide announcement, as well as readdress the concerns and ramifications of the naming on the Stevens Community with a committee containing at least 40 percent student representation.”
It also demands that the Student Government Association be involved when the university forms future task forces, committees, or panels and demands that the university president, cabinet, and board of trustees meet with the SGA on a regular basis, at least three times per semester.
“This proposal is in no way an attack on the Stevens University name,” the proposal states. “This proposal is for the uppermost administration to directly hear the concerns of students. We know that Stevens has the potential to be one of the most student-centric schools in the country. The student leaders on this campus are second to none, and we know that given the resources and full support of administration this campus can be changed for the better.”
The new center
The 89,500-square-foot teaching and research facility officially opened Dec. 10.
More than 200 guests gathered at the Rosa and John H. Hovey ’57 Staircase and Lobby for the ribbon-cutting celebration and opening remarks, where President Nariman Farvardin and Chairman of the Board Stephen T. Boswell (’89 Ph.D.’91 Hon. D. Eng.’13) expressed gratitude to the more than 20 donors who made the construction of the building possible and for the invaluable guidance from Hoboken elected officials and neighbors.
The Gianforte Family Hall and South Hall, connected by the glass sky bridge, contain 10 new smart classrooms, 13 labs, and 45 faculty offices.
Among the building’s showcase spaces is the Mary Jane and Frank Semcer Sr. ’65 Center for Healthcare Innovation, which aims to address gaps and issues related to advancing biomedical technology and healthcare delivery. It’s outfitted with a 3D tissue culture lab, a dedicated room for DNA amplification, a cleaning room, a conference room/classroom, and a large graduate student office, among several other features.
The Health & Artificial Intelligence Lab will explore how to improve human health using artificial intelligence methods. The Prototype Object Fabrication, or ProOF Lab, will help students and faculty create parts, assemblies, mechatronic and IoT enabled systems, and programming for devices/robots.
The Gateway Academic Center also serves as the new home of the computer science department, which has hired eight new faculty in the past two years. Students and faculty will enjoy a computer science open collaboration space, a graduate student office, two computer science labs, and the Cybersecurity Lab.