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As graduate students who study and teach at the University of Pennsylvania, we express our solidarity with the Occupy movement now underway in many cities, including our own.

We understand the movement as responding to the erosion of the state’s commitment to ensuring social and economic justice and equality for the vast majority, the “99 percent.” In our dual roles as students and educators, we feel obliged to reiterate and support the movement’s rightful critique of the political economy of post-secondary education. Over the past decades, the structure of higher education in the United States has increasingly reflected and reproduced the unequal society against which the Occupy movement protests.

As members of this University community, we feel the need to draw attention to the fact that at the same time as our own endowment grew by an astounding $1 billion in fiscal year 2011, state universities have faced severe budget cuts. Austerity measures in the state of Pennsylvania have forced our neighbors at Temple University to cut their operating budget for 2012 by $36 million, after having already permanently cut their budget by $40 million in 2010. Such cuts have shifted the financial burden to students in the form of increased tuition, contributing to the epidemic of student debt — which now exceeds United States credit card debt. The burden of crippling student debt in the face of diminished job prospects is what has motivated so many college students and recent graduates to join the Occupy movement. We stand in solidarity with them.

Contributing to this massive disparity between privately and publicly funded education is the fact that Penn enjoys tax-exempt status, thereby failing to contribute to the diminishing public coffers that finance the elementary, secondary and post-secondary institutions that educate the vast majority of Americans — including Philadelphia’s direly strained school system. As opportunities for an affordable education dwindle, low-income youth are funneled into a growing school-to-prison pipeline or must enlist in the military in order to attend college.

Like many of its peers — including Harvard University in Cambridge, Yale University in New Haven, Columbia University near Harlem and the University of Chicago in Hyde Park — Penn has an uncomfortable relationship with the socio-economically underprivileged neighborhood in which it is located. Efforts to palliate this situation — from charitable endeavors such as a need-blind admissions policy and the Penn Alexander School to so-called economic stimulation in the form of minimum wage jobs — do little to redress the underlying system of racialized inequality that tenaciously continues to structure Philadelphia, as well as American society as a whole.

One of the most frequent complaints about the Occupy movement is that its multiplicity of voices inhibits it from proposing a concrete policy agenda. As educators, we recognize the value of a space that fosters conversation between a plurality of differing perspectives. We see in Occupy Philadelphia an exemplary classroom. The encampment outside City Hall is a profoundly pedagogical environment; all participants are both teachers and students. The community’s diversity — along the lines of class, race, religion, political affiliation and many other axes of difference — is precisely what enables this radically non-hierarchical pedagogical dynamic.

Occupy Philadelphia now offers a vibrant educational environment that is not paralleled at our own institution. At City Hall, learning is viewed not as a commodity that can be bought but as a community resource to be shared. This is visible in the library and book exchange, as well as the proliferation of non-traditional courses, which include a people’s law school, lessons on urban commoning and anti-racism seminars, just to name a few. Moreover, the movement’s decision-making process offers a practical demonstration of the virtues of open, democratic debate.

We applaud and thank the Occupy movement for invigorating and inspiring our own pedagogical practice with its radically democratic example. We call upon the Penn community — humanities, sciences and professional schools, undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and staff — to contribute to and learn from the Occupy movement now taking place at City Hall.

Christopher Taylor, English
Ashley Cohen, English
Christine Woody, English
Don James McLaughlin, English
Divya Nair, English
Joan Lubin, English
Thomas Dichter, English
Bronwyn V. Wallace, English
Sunny Yang, English
Jessica Hurley, English
Christine Ho, English
Jason Zuzga, English
Rachel Banner, English
Alice McGrath, English
Vaclav Paris, English
Suzanne L. Barnett, English
Sarah Hicks, South Asia Studies
Samuel Ostrof, South Asia Studies
Marissa Nicosia, English
Ananya Dasgupta, South Asia Studies
Ali Madani, English
Marina Bilbija, English
Nese Senol, Comparative Literature
Begum Adalet, Political Science
Casey Bohrman, Social Policy and Practice
Marlene Walk, Social Policy and Practice
Alex Garlick, Political Science
Kevin Gotkin, Annenberg School for Communication
Lucia Martinez, English
Khadijah White, Annenberg School for Communication
Steve Dolph, Romance Languages
Elspeth Wilson, Political Science
Adam E. Leeds, Anthropology
Sierra Lomuto, English
Sid Rothstein, Political Science
Susannah G. Fishman, Anthropology
Michelle Evans-Chase, Social Policy & Practice
Sarah Nicolazzo, Comparative Literature
Kalyan Nadiminti, English
Rafael Walker, English
Jill Shashaty, English
Yael Levin, Social Policy and Practice
Sarah Simons, Social Policy and Practice
Christa Cesario, Anthropology
Mi-Yeet Wong, Social Policy and Practice
Bonnie J. Friedman, Sr. Project Assistant Oncology and ID &V
Anita R. Gooding, Social Policy and Practice
Ania Kubin, Social Policy and Practice
Alejandra Sulpizio, Social Policy and Practice
Stacey L. Barrenger, Social Policy and Practice
Paul Massey, School of Medicine
Peter McCarthy, Social Policy and Practice
Jess Cross, Social Policy and Practice
Jacqueline Tartell, Social Policy and Practice
Laura J. Torres-Rodríguez, Romance Languages
Anne Day, Social Policy and Practice
Elizabeth Hutton, Social Policy and Practice
Kaitlin Gravitt, Social Policy and Practice
Vanessa Pineros, School of Medicine
Crystal Zheng, School of Medicine
Patricia Martinez, Social Policy and Practice
Jill Bennett Gaieski, Anthropology
Leif Weatherby, Comparative Literature
Beth Stelson, Social Policy and Practice
Miles Davison, Social Policy and Practice
Nikki Fantauzzi, Social Policy and Practice
Phil Maciack, English
Elizabeth Brenum, Social Policy and Practice
Joseph Lavery, Comparative Literature
Melanie Micir, English
David Alff, English
Taylor R. Hendricks, Social Policy and Practice
Mia Benson-Smith, Social Policy and Practice
Regina Szczesniak, School of Medicine
Marjorie Nejman, Social Policy and Practice
Ashley Klip, School of Medicine
Jacqueline Burek, English
Alexandra Charrow, School of Medicine
Matthew A. Lapierre, Annenberg School for Communication
Stephanie Harmelin, Social Policy and Practice
Bethany Caldwell, Social Policy and Practice
Liz Noll, Social Policy and Practice
Shashank Saini, South Asia Studies / Anthropology
Arianna Deeley, Social Policy and Practice
Marjorie Anderson, Social Policy and Practice
Courtney Rydel, English
Jonathan Fedors, English
Erika Zaveloff, Social Policy and Practice
Megan Ammon, Social Policy and Practice
Savannah Shange, Education, Culture & Society / Africana Studies
Rachel Gaston, Social Policy and Practice
Monika Bhagat-Kennedy, English
Sadie Forsythe, Social Policy and Practice
Alison Howard, Comparative Literature
Chris Jimenez, English
Alexis Neumann, History
Jeff Glidden, Social Policy and Practice
Meredith Gill, Social Policy and Practice
Roland Li, School of Medicine
Sam Tanyos, School of Medicine
Kathryn Taylor, History
Robin Burkert, Social Policy and Practice
Christen Mucher, English
Ofole Mgbako, School of Medicine
Linda Maldonado, School of Nursing
Shannon Healey, Social Policy and Practice
Manuela Tripepi, Biology
Carole Showell, Social Policy and Practice
Osman Balkan, Political Science
Peter Laumann, Law
Ashley Arens, Social Policy and Practice
Ian M. Hartshorn, Political Science
Omari Weekes, English
Lisa Mullinax, Social Policy and Practice
Rhiannon O’Leary, Social Policy and Practice
Rafi Winograd, School of Medicine
David Kirton, English
Annabelle Douglas, Social Policy and Practice
Lucy Marcil, School of Medicine
Heather J. Arkuski, Liberal Arts
Angela Britto, English
Cliff Mak, Comparative Literature
Sarah Dowling, English
Abby Olsen, School of Medicine
Jane Malcom, English
Roberto Saba, History
Kelly Rich, English
Denise Tanyol, English
Diana Pimentel, School of Medicine
Kathleen Norland, Law
Tekla Bude, English
Nava EtShalom, English
Jeremy Pine, Anthropology

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