Occupy the Ivy-Covered Walls
In college classrooms across the nation, the demands of the Occupy Wall Street movement are moving from the streets to lecture halls.
At several colleges and universities, course catalogues include new classes designed to teach students about the background, significance and context of the Occupy movement. These courses are currently taught at Roosevelt University in Chicago, Brown University in Providence, R.I., the University of California – San Diego, New York University, Oregon State University, and, this summer, at Montgomery College in Maryland. A course had been scheduled to be taught at Columbia University in New York, but it was canceled.
At Roosevelt University, 32 undergraduate students had the opportunity to learn about the movement that was taking place right before their eyes. Each week, Occupy Chicago protesters held their general assembly meetings across the street from the campus. Professor Jeffrey Edwards, who teaches the class, noticed this and seized upon the potential learning experience.
”It was interesting for students to study something that is happening right cross the street,” Edwards said. “Offering the course was about a special set of circumstances.”
Edwards, in a televised interview, said he faced no resistance in creating the class. He said he believes the subject is especially important because the movement has changed the discourse of American politics.
“It has captured the imagination of the public and of a particular generation,” he said. “Because of the generational issues, it’s a way to engage students on how political science looks at the world.”
Students are expected to complete readings from Occupy newsletters. But while there are Occupy protesters enrolled in the class, participation in the protests is not required.
At Columbia, though, students who enrolled in the course were expected to conduct field work through participation in the Occupy movement. Taught by Professor Hannah Appel, the course, Occupy the Field: Global Finance, Inequality, Social Movement, was to be a critical exploration of the Occupy movement.
At Montgomery College, Occupy MoCo? was created as a summer course for high school students. The class received much attention, as it was originally thought to encourage students to take part in the local Occupy movement. School administrators are now looking to change the name of the course, saying the class is intended only to discuss social issues and protests, not to encourage students to Occupy.
At Brown, a seminar entitled The Occupy Movement in Historical Context will explore the significance of the Occupy movement and look at the historical context of its grievances in relation to the American protest tradition.
Oregon State University unveiled their course, titled “Political Philosophy of Occupy Wall Street,” for the spring 2012 semester. The course teaches undergraduate and graduate students about the “political, cultural and social underpinnings” of social movements similar to the Occupy movement.
While the Occupy movement gained momentum through the end of 2011, it slowed during the winter months, as protesters across the U.S. vacated parks and cities. And while these courses have sprouted up across universities for the spring 2012 semester, there is doubt that the trend will continue if the movement fades, Edwards said. He believes that he won’t continue his class after the semester, citing a lack of scholarly information.
On the contrary, though, if the movement gains momentum again and has long-term impact, he does believe that a growing number of universities could teach more courses in the future.
While Edwards said that students have reacted favorably toward the class, he has faced some resistance from critics who argue that a class should be taught on the Tea Party. So far, no plans have been made.
Occupy Wall Street started in late 2011 in Liberty Square in Manhattan. Since its creation, the movement has spread to more than 100 cities in the United States and more than 1,500 cities worldwide. Many colleges have adopted their own branches of the movement, fighting back against major corporations and banks, while looking to Wall Street as the reason for the economic collapse.
The movement was inspired by uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, and aims to fight back against the richest 1 percent of society.