The messages of last week’s Occupy Philadelphia protests at Huntsman Hall are reverberating throughout campus, as Penn students become more involved in the movement.
On Oct. 21, about 500 protesters marched from City Hall to Huntsman in protest of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s scheduled talk at the Wharton Leadership Lecture series.
Cantor (R-Va.) canceled his talk due to the anticipated crowds after being informed that Penn “was unable to ensure that the attendance policy previously agreed to could be met,” according to Cantor spokeswoman Laena Fallon.
English professor Ania Loomba, who drafted a solidarity statement signed by other Penn faculty members, said the movement’s journey to Penn was inevitable.
“I know there are a lot of undergraduates who are active and thinking about all of this. So it’s inevitable that this should happen,” she said.
Loomba said “things that affect the city affect our campus,” explaining that “we can walk a few blocks to City Hall and see all of it happening there.”
Assistant professor at the School of Social Policy and Practice Toorjo Ghose, who signed the solidarity statement, agreed that Penn should be involved because of its role in the city. “I hope it’s inevitable that Penn would be engaged,” adding that Penn has an obligation to be engaged in making changes in the community.
However, English graduate student Christopher Taylor, who signed a graduate student solidarity statement, believes the absence of Penn students at City Hall has been noted throughout the city. He attributed this in part to the geographical and representational divide between Penn and Philadelphia.
“Penn is very much differentiated, so it makes total sense that they are not at Occupy,” he said.
However, the Cantor protest may have been the push to heighten Penn involvement.
Ghose noted that the protest has increased the level of conversation around campus. He has encountered more students who are trying to figure out what is going on, especially in SP2.
“After the protest, there was a general milling around Huntsman. A lot of people were hanging around and talking about it,” he said.
Taylor, too, has encountered many undergraduate students who are “very impassioned.” He added that there is no consistent interpretation of the movement among students, which creates an opportunity for students to begin asking questions and challenge some of Penn’s policies.
Ghose believes Penn’s involvement would bring a more scholarly angle into the movement. He noticed that protesters have increasingly been asking for the evidence behind issues and questioning why or why not certain policies are effective. In addition, he plans to take his students down to City Hall.
“There’s a role we play, and that has come into focus,” he said.
Loomba said she wishes for more students to take part in the discussion in how the movement can be applied to Penn — “not screaming and shouting, but engaging in conversation.”
The Philomathean Society is planning a forum for students and faculty to discuss Occupy Philadelphia later in November. Although the event falls out of the group’s planned programming, “I think we can all agree that this is something on the minds of many Penn students and faculty, and affects how we define ourselves as a University,” College senior Laura Lee, events committee planner, explained.
“The University is a very privileged place, where we’re supposed to think about ideas,” Loomba said. “It’s a place for ideas, not a factory for jobs.”
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