NYU Student-Activist Graduates, Days After Warrant Issued for Her Arrest

During the week of her final exams, Brenna Lipset discovered she was wanted by the NYPD, accused of domestic terrorism and criminal trespassing for protesting the killing of Jordan Neely. Here's how she made it to the commencement stage.
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Jessica Bryant is a higher education analyst and senior data reporter for BestColleges. She covers higher education trends and data, focusing on issues impacting underserved students. She has a BA in journalism and previously worked with the South Fl...
Updated on June 5, 2023
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  • NYU graduate Brenna Lipset amassed a large social media following from documenting New York City protests.
  • While attending protests in early May related to the death of Jordan Neely, Lipset was identified by the NYPD as someone who committed criminal trespassing.
  • The warrant for her arrest was issued just weeks before she was set to graduate.
  • Lipset was unable to graduate last year due to mental health struggles and feared she may not make it to this year's ceremony due to the warrant.

Just two hours prior to delivering her senior thesis presentation, New York University (NYU) student Brenna Lipset discovered that there was a warrant out for her arrest.

As her full name, face, address, and other personal identifying information spread across the internet, Lipset started to worry about many things, including that she might not make it to her graduation.

Lipset has amassed a large following on TikTok for documenting social justice protests in New York and for sharing the ups and downs of mental health struggles that prevented her from graduating in 2022.

Walking across the commencement stage was of the utmost importance to Lipset. Now, her commitment to protesting for social justice threatened to derail her dream.

In early May, the city of New York erupted in protests after Daniel Penny killed a homeless man named Jordan Neely in a subway car by putting him in a chokehold. Freelance journalist Juan Alberto Vazquez recorded the incident and told The New York Post that Neely was screaming "in an aggressive manner" and complaining of hunger and thirst. However, Neely did not physically attack anyone, Vazquez said.

Lipset attended many of the protests that called for the arrest of Penny, filming them for social media, including a demonstration where protesters flooded an Upper East Side subway track.

Though Lipset does not confirm or deny that she was on the track at the time of the demonstration, the New York Police Department (NYPD) identified her as one of several protesters on the platform.

After friends notified her of her wanted status, Lipset spent the next two weeks hiding away while trying to finish her finals and make it to graduation.

In a series of now-deleted TikTok videos she shared just days ago that quickly garnered more than 2.6 million views combined, Lipset explained the emotions she went through while fearing she might not get to attend her graduation.

She managed to attend NYU's commencement ceremony at Yankee Stadium and looked out with tears in her eyes as they announced the graduating class of 2023.

Immediately afterwards, she turned herself in and was officially arrested.

According to the complaint obtained from the Manhattan District Attorney's office, Lipset was arraigned on two misdemeanor charges of obstructing governmental administration in the second degree and criminal trespass in the third degree. She was later released on her own recognizance.

In spite of the chaos that unfolded the weeks prior, Lipset described the moment at Yankee Stadium when she became an official graduate of NYU as one of the "best, most rewarding experiences of [her] entire life."

Though the case is not yet closed, and there are still legal hurdles she'll have to face, Lipset shows no signs of slowing down her advocacy and efforts to bring the behind the scenes of protesting to light.

Further, Lipset discusses her ability to get through this trying time to obtain her degree with pride and left her TikTok followers with a message to keep fighting for themselves.

"Never give up on yourself," she stressed in a video. "If I've learned anything in life, just don't give up on yourself."