When College sophomore Dylan Hewitt first made his way to the Occupy Philadelphia protests two weeks ago, he felt anxious and out of place.
“The term ‘Penn’ can really set off a negative reaction around here,” he said. “It was tough to stand up and speak out during that initial trip.”
Since that time, though, Hewitt and a group of about 20 Penn students have become mainstays at the demonstrations, taking SEPTA down to the protests outside City Hall and, in some cases, braving the elements by camping out in tents overnight.
At peer institutions in the Ivy League and at colleges and universities nationwide, students have become similarly involved with the ongoing movement, which began with Occupy Wall Street.
Whether through a broader, growing Occupy Colleges campaign or on their own, college students have increasingly been making their voices heard. They’ve held teach-ins, they’ve walked out of classes to stage protests, and they’ve joined community members in solidarity.
While each student protester brings a unique set of ideals, one underlying principle has united everybody: a need for change.
“Any time young people get ignited to care and to hope for something, their fervor doesn’t dampen out over time,” said Joan Garry, an adjunct professor in the Annenberg School for Communication. “Their involvement transforms in different sorts of ways … and I don’t think we’re going to see the end of that any time soon.”
A sense of community
In Philadelphia, Penn students have joined protesters from Drexel and Temple universities in the demonstration outside City Hall.
On Saturday, Occupy Philadelphia demonstrators marched throughout Center City, holding signs and eliciting support from honking cars. According to an Occupy Philadelphia statement, the number of tents outside City Hall has more than tripled over the past week, with more than 300 tents now on site.
Temple freshman Walter Smolarek, who brought together the Temple contingent of Occupy Philadelphia, said there has been an “incredible energy and fervor” so far among Philadelphia-area college students.
“The effect of one school like Temple being here in full force is great, but imagine tripling that with attendance from schools like Drexel, Villanova and Penn,” he said, adding that Temple students are planning a walk-out and march to Center City on Friday. “That’s what I’d like to see as this continues to gain steam.”
Though he noted that there are “definitely some negative preconceptions” about an Ivy League school like Penn, he hopes students from the University will not be discouraged from showing up at Occupy Philadelphia “because they feel they may not belong.”
College sophomore Emma Johnson, who has been involved with the protests, said she would like to see more Penn students at City Hall.
“A lot of people at the movement comment how Penn is the 1 percent [of wealthy society], but I think there are a lot of us [at the University] who have been affected by what’s going on financially,” she said.
Johnson, who took a year off during the 2010-11 academic year, added that she applied for more than 200 jobs during that time, only to find herself unemployed for nine months.
That experience showed her firsthand that “the system we have today is unjust.”
“I would definitely like to see more students at Penn speaking out,” Johnson said.
At some Ivy League schools, though, fervor for the Occupy movement has been picking up rapidly.
Brown University students, for instance, have organized their own Occupy College Hill group, which has worked closely with a larger Occupy Providence movement.
Brown’s main campus is located on College Hill on the east side of Providence, R.I.
Occupy College Hill, which has more than 120 supporters on Facebook, organized a series of teach-ins by Brown professors on Wednesday. Professors spoke on topics like social change, political economy and finance.
More than 300 students and community members attended the teach-ins, according to The Brown Daily Herald.
“For me, our movement is a community-building project based on the principles we’d ideally like to see our society founded upon,” Brown junior Cael Thompson said, adding that Occupy College Hill gathers regularly three times a week for general assembly meetings.
Over at Columbia University and Barnard College, students have found themselves right in the middle of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Barnard junior Justine Lyons, who — along with more than 700 protesters — was arrested Oct. 1 during a march across the Brooklyn Bridge, said despite a general lack of organization within the movement, there have been “a ton of individual students [from Barnard and Columbia] who have hopped on the subway and made the trip to the epicenter of this protest.”
On Oct. 5, more than 100 Columbia students staged a walk-out. Students stepped out of their classrooms and dorms to gather in front of the main campus gates and travel to Wall Street in protest.
As of this weekend, more than 350 Columbia professors have signed a petition in support of Occupy Wall Street. Almost 80 Penn professors have followed suit with a similar statement of solidarity.
Student support for the Occupy movement, however, has not been confined to the east coast.
Currently, an Occupy Berkeley group — which was spearheaded by undergraduate and graduate students at the University of California at Berkeley, as well as members of the Berkeley community — has more than 2,000 supporters on Facebook.
The group, which has been protesting on the property of a Bank of America branch near campus, holds daily general assembly meetings.
“Over the years, a lot of community members have become disenchanted with Berkeley students, and vice versa,” said Berkeley junior Bo-Peter Laanen, who helped create Occupy Berkeley. “I think this movement has helped bring those two groups together like never before.”
A long road ahead
Though the Occupy movement has been gaining momentum at Penn and at schools across the country, it has still encountered a significant amount of opposition.
On Wednesday, College senior Alex Niculescu created a Facebook event entitled Occupy Wharton. Though Niculescu declined to comment for this article, Occupy Wharton’s Facebook description reads that the event — which is listed as beginning Oct. 31 — is “merely an initial call to see who is interested in organizing for an occupation.”
A College freshman who wished to remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of the issue said he will “most definitely” attend the event if it takes place.
The freshman, who has already witnessed the Occupy Philadelphia protests firsthand, said since the national movement is concerned with the current state of the economy, it “makes sense to bring this to the business school” symbolically. However, he does not believe the Wharton School is to blame for today’s problems.
“Students at Wharton have done nothing wrong and singling them out as an abusive force is ridiculous and unfounded,” Wharton sophomore and 2014 Class Board President Spencer Penn said.
College senior Mike Guarino agreed.
“The idea that a business school is reproducing the dynamics of poverty and extreme class disparity is absurd,” he said.
On Wednesday evening, a different group of students created a second Facebook page for an event entitled Occupy Penn. The event’s description included several statements that seemingly poked fun at Occupy Wall Street.
Among other things, the event invited anybody who would “rather inconvenience others than actively pursue employment” or who would want to “blame someone else for [their] problems” to attend.
The event creators removed Occupy Penn from Facebook on Friday afternoon after confirming that it had been made in jest.
Other Ivy League schools have seen similar skepticism directed at Occupy Wall Street.
At Princeton University, the movement has been a bit slow to catch on across campus, said Princeton junior and Daily Princetonian columnist Brandon Davis, who has attended the protests in New York.
“I’ve heard a lot of cynicism — that the protests are naive and foolish,” he said. He speculated that, while some at Princeton have been supportive of Occupy Wall Street, many students may be hesitant to get involved “because they perceive this as a direct assault on their potential future employers.”
Though Harvard University sophomore Sandra Korn, who has been attending Occupy Boston protests, agreed that some on Harvard’s campus remain cynical about the movement, she is encouraged by the number of students who have been getting involved.
She attributed some of that involvement to “a sense of guilt because Harvard was somewhat implicated in the financial crisis.”
“It’s definitely powerful to feel that I as a Harvard student can contribute something real to this movement,” Korn said, “but we still have a lot of work to do.”Comments powered by Disqus
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