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Engrossing: Occupied thoughts on The Great Teach In

Published: April 20, 2012
Section: Opinions


A few days ago, I received several Facebook invitations to a series of events titled the Brandeis 99% Spring Week. This collection of events is part of the larger 99% Spring—an offshoot of the original Occupy protests that seeks to organize and train interested individuals to participate in protests nationwide.

A highlight of the events taking place at Brandeis will be The Great Teach In on the Great Lawn. The event is being planned by Brandeis sociology professor Gordie Fellman along with a group of passionate students and will feature sessions led by occupiers, academics and activists. Topics covered will range from the legal implications of the Occupy movement to the environmental ones.

The docket of speakers is impressive, but what is truly interesting about this teach-in is that university administrators will not just be present on the Great Lawn but also participating.
In addition to speakers from the Occupy movement itself, the event will begin with opening remarks from Provost Steve Goldstein and will feature presentations from faculty members and from President Fredrick Lawrence.

Some are saying that the administrators’ involvement is a symbol of the university’s commitment to its legacy of social justice and activism; however, the idea of Brandeis’ highest authorities speaking alongside occupy organizers seems strange to me for a few reasons.

Occupy is an anti-authority movement at its very core. And while it is not impossible to imagine that Goldstein and Lawrence might be personally interested in the movement, I can’t help but think that the university’s administration is making a strategic move with their participation in this event.

I won’t pretend to know how the provost or president became involved with the teach-in, but I will say that it is rare for authorities and occupiers to stand on the same stage together.

By involving themselves in the planning of an Occupy-associated event, the university is able to keep its eyes and ears on individuals and groups who might be inclined to protest.

It seems to me that their decision came with good reasons.

Last year on campuses around the country, students formed Occupy protests as groups in solidarity with the original Occupy Wall Street movement. They adapted the 99 percent identity to the student body and the 1 percent to its administration. In these movements, students set themselves in opposition to university authorities and—often very successfully—frame the administration as the unquestionable enemy.

One of the most famous of these university occupations took place on the campus of UC Davis, where students organized an occupation to protest unfair tuition rises and corrupt action behind the closed office doors of university administrators.

Actions of the members of Occupy UC Davis were met with police intervention and violence.

As images of student protests filled the nation’s newsreel, I couldn’t help but wonder when Occupy Brandeis would happen. Students are not short on complaints here. Dining, housing, health services and steep tuition rises are just a short list of grievances drawn upon daily in the discourse on the state of the university. With the university’s left-leaning tendencies and history of social action and civil disobedience, an occupation seemed inevitable. Counterintuitively, no student arose on campus, and Occupy lost steam quickly. But if the 99% Spring is an attempt to resurrect the Occupy of the past, an associated event organized on campus is an undeniable red flag.

It is clear that Brandeis’ administration is trying to align itself with Occupy in order to make it more difficult for students to rationalize an occupation of our campus. Additionally, by helping in the organization of an Occupy-related event, the university is able to watch the discussion and action of students who would be likely to occupy our campus.

I am not trying to condemn the university for its efforts, so much as make it clear that their actions have possibly unforeseen implications. It is admirable that students, staff and faculty members worked together to organize such an interesting event and I am excited to see how it and the rest of the university-occupy discourse plays out in the final weeks of this semester.