Occupy USF sets up camp on lower-campus to raise awareness about inequalities in wealth in the U.S. Photo by Lily Rothrock.
The University of San Francisco has embraced the Occupy Wall
Street movement as a teachable moment by creating new curriculum and organizing
a series of town hall discussions. A student group has even pitched tents and peacefully
camped out on lower-campus.
The rapid rise and nationwide spread of the Occupy movement over
the last two months is an exciting and rare opportunity, said Joshua Gamson,
USF sociology professor. So rare that Gamson and the university’s other Introduction
to Sociology professors have redesigned their curriculum mid-semester. The new
curriculum, which dovetails perfectly with the “social movements” curriculum
usually studied during this portion of the class, requires students to delve
into the root of the Occupy movement, analyze the media coverage surrounding
the movement, and visit one of the Bay Area Occupy encampments to talk with
supporters and others.
Occupy Wall Street Forum
Where: McLaren Complex 250-251
When: 7:30 – 9:30 p.m. Nov. 30
What: The event will continue the conversations started by the Occupy Wall Street movement and encourage community members to seek information for themselves and to think deeply about affecting change in the world.
“It’s not often that so many critical sociological issues are
brought to light at once, especially by a movement that grabs so many people’s
attention, including our students’,” said Gamson, who is one of four USF Introduction
to Sociology instructors teaching Occupy Wall Street curriculum.
Supporting the movement isn’t a class requirement. Instead, the
new curriculum has students grappling with the U.S. economic situation that
gave rise to Occupy Wall Street.
“Given that USF is a social justice-oriented institution, I think
we want to challenge students to evaluate whether the claims the movement
articulates about injustice are accurate,” Gamson said. “And, if so, to do
something about it.”
So far, Leah Luebker ’13, a nursing major in Gamson’s class, has
studied how Occupy supporters use symbols to communicate, how they mobilize
collectively, and the intended and unintended consequences of their decisions.
Luebker, who visited the Occupy SF camp along the Embarcadero Nov.
16 and spoke with supporters and police there, witnessed protesters with very
different agendas from Occupy Wall Street — which, at its core, aims to
challenge America’s wealth disparity. “I
saw more signs to legalize marijuana, to get the troops home, and to stop
supporting terrorists than to stop capitalism, greed, or corruption,” Luebker
Studying Occupy in Gamson’s class has been eye opening in other
ways, as well. For example, it has highlighted how communicating the ideas
behind Occupy, or any movement, can break down, Luebker said. “One thing that really stuck with me from my visit was
when I asked a group of police officers what they knew about the movement, and
they really didn't know much about it,” she said.
The Occupy movement’s communications pitfalls haven’t kept it from
growing in popularity at USF, however. If anything, those challenges have been
a rallying point for supporters, faculty, and student clubs interested in
spreading the word or studying the movement.
A number of clubs have banned together to sponsor town hall discussions.
And Occupy USF, a student group that supports Occupy Wall Street, has pitched
tents and camped out on lower-campus. Only current USF students have been among
those to camp out, and
there have been no disruptive activities.
The forums, one held
Nov. 17 with about 65 students attending and another scheduled for Nov. 30, aim to help the USF community understand the
movement by posing questions to a panel of faculty experts and student
supporters, discussing the movement in small groups, and analyzing graphic art
and other media to find clues to the socio-economic origins of the movement,
said Evelyn Obama, president of the Culturally Focused Clubs Council, one of
the student groups sponsoring the town hall forums.
Senior politics major Raffi Bezdikian ’12, a member of Occupy USF,
said the group’s camp near Kalmanovitz Hall isn’t a protest against the
university. Rather, it’s intended to show support for the wider Occupy Wall
Street movement and raise interest on campus among students. The camp, which has been set up one or two nights a week since Nov. 16, has attracted as many as 20 students in a night, according to administrators. “I don’t agree
with the socialist and anarchist messages of some Occupy supporters, nor do I
really think that corporations are evil. But, I do think they need much more
regulation,” Bezdikian said. “Ethical capitalism, along with responsive
government, should be the way forward.”
Like many in the Occupy movement, Bezdikian believes that the
money flowing into political campaign coffers at the national, state, and local
levels has corrupted American democracy. “Money stops government from
representing the will of the people,” Bezdikian said. “Instead, politicians
only listen to the will of their donors.”
Many USF administrators see the message behind Occupy Wall Street
as akin to the university’s mission to educate
a generation of leaders who will fashion a more humane and just world.
“This is an educational moment for us all,
especially in the context of possible cuts to the Pell Grant program and to
education in general,” said Peter
Novak, vice provost of student affairs, in a message to the USF community.