Why Occupy Harvard?

Why set up a protest camp at the richest university in the nation? One answer is presented on a sign posted near the tents occupying Harvard Yard: “Wall Street Occupied My University,” while Maryam Monalisa Gharavi writes in the Los Angeles Review of Books:

Occupy Harvard itself has issued reasons for its existence, demanding a “university for the ‘99 percent,’ not a corporation for the ‘1 percent’” (with a short primer on what this could look like), an alter-model to the corporatization of higher education, and a demand for financial transparency, including the disclosure of all of Harvard’s investments.

As Adbusters noted, “if an occupation can happen at Harvard, it can happen anywhere.” Furthermore, Harvard’s privileged position is reflected in the outsize media attention granted to happenings on campus. The first tents went up on November 9th, and within days, coverage appeared in the Boston Globe, Slate, Gawker, The Atlantic, and the Washington Post. Since then, Occupy Harvard has “mic-checked” visitors, including Newt Gingrich and the mayor of Philadelphia, they’ve protested a Goldman Sachs recruiting event, and held a teach-in with professors from Harvard and elsewhere. Like many of the local occupations, they have a website, and a newspaper, the Occupy Harvard Crimson. Much of the press coverage has picked up on common themes, including the ironic “exclusivity” of the protest, the result of the university’s decision to lock the gates to Harvard Yard and institute ID checks for all who enter. Reactions from within Harvard have been mixed — numerous faculty have signed a letter in support of the protesters, while an editorial in the Harvard Crimson criticized the decision to protest Goldman Sachs, suggesting that the company had been the victim of “banker bashing,” and that:

Occupy Harvard’s targeting of a Goldman Sachs recruiting event presents a facile and trivializing interpretation of the root causes of the economic catastrophe and debases our national conversation on the issue….. More unsavory, the protest carried with it a strong sentiment against Harvard undergraduates seeking careers in the financial services industry. Perhaps it is not ideal that so many of us go on to Wall Street, but targeting individuals looking at career options in this way is hardly the appropriate remedy. Many students who enter these fields are not the scions of banking families but rather hard-working students looking for a challenging job that lets them experience a newfound financial prosperity.

And a number of the critical responses have, somewhat ironically, reinforced the 1%/99% framework — either directly, as in the case of those freshmen who yelled, “We are the 1 percent! We are the 1 percent!” at the protesters — or indirectly, by writers and others who assume that members of Occupy Harvard, by virtue of their affiliation with the school are themselves members of the 1%, and are therefore acting against their (mechanistically presumed) class interest.

Many feel the occupation of Harvard by its students is hypocritical and according to Sneha Walia ’15, “Even if they’re not in the 1 percent, they’re at Harvard, they’re going to be.”

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