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Penn students learn about the occupy movement Credit: Christina Prudencio , Christina Prudencio

On the heels of several Occupy movement demonstrations on campus — including the protest surrounding Eric Cantor’s canceled lecture and the display of solidarity for Occupy Oakland — members of the new student group OccupyPenn held a teach-in on Friday to educate others on their movement.

Starting at around 2 p.m. on Friday, staff, student members of OccupyPenn and interested onlookers gathered between the McNeil Building and Huntsman Hall. The event allotted time for several speakers, including Philadelphia sheriff candidate Cheri Honkala, English professor Ania Loomba and School of Social Policy and Practice associate professor Toorjo Ghose. But the event dedicated most of the time — over two hours — to discussion.

“It’s an educational event,” Engineering senior Justin Broglie said. “We want to be open to everyone that’s angry or opposed to Occupy in a civilized, mature way … We feel a majority of people would feel inclined to participate if they understood the issues at hand.”

The McNeil Building, home of Penn’s Economics and Urban Studies departments and On-Campus Recruiting, and Huntsman, the home of the Wharton School, served as a symbolic background for a discussion that involved crime and Philadelphia’s curfew, campus jobs, wealth distribution and civil disobedience.

“Wharton is a symbol of certain things that the movement takes issue with,” College senior Zev Fagin said. “However, Penn is as well. The main issue is with equality and the corporate influence of the state. [Wharton] is really centered around one thing — profit. And that’s a component of the ideology we want to critique and talk about.”

GALLERY: Photos of OccupyPenn teach-in

However, several students who spoke agreed that the goals of the Occupy movement were less about individuals and more about the way people view the economy.

“What we’re critiquing is bankrupt ideologies and structures,” Brogile said. “What people in Wharton need to realize is that we’re not pointing the finger at them or at the professors.”

Several speakers discussed what the goals of the Occupy movement should be and how it’s viewed by the media and the public. In particular, Loomba expressed frustration with the reaction to a faculty petition that she started in support of the Occupy movement.

At its peak, approximately 70 people were gathered to participate in discourse. Although the event was intended to engage those opposed to the Occupy movement in discussion, most statements centered around solidarity with the national Occupy movements and the inequality in employment and distribution of wealth. Some students who weren’t initially at the event stopped by to listen, but few stayed for more than a few minutes.

“I was walking by, saw them talking and wanted to listen,” said College senior Nick Barretta, one of the few passers-by who gave a statement. “I didn’t know much about the movement beforehand.”

Barretta and about 15 others are discussing plans for future events. The group hopes to hold similar teach-in’s every week and to stay outside as long as the weather cooperates. Organizers also passed around a sign-up sheet for the OccupyPenn listserv, which by the end of the event included about a page of names of interested staff and students.

“I couldn’t be happier about the quantity of people and the quality of conversation,” said Wharton senior Max Cohen, who introduced the speakers and related discussions. “They were asking really big questions. People had the opportunity to express frustration as well as admiration with the movement. This non-hierarchical and non-exclusive component is how we want our economy to operate.”

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