Occupy UT inspires student activism in face of obstacles
Even as authorities continue to stifle the public protest, the Occupy Movement has found new venues for activism. The movement has grown on college campuses around the country. From the organization of an Occupy UMASS to the continued activism of students at Occupy UC Davis, college campuses have acted as an incubator of the Occupy Movement.
In Texas the Occupy Movement has been embraced by colleges and universities around the state. As the Texas Independent reported, student led protests have been organized at some of the state’s flagship campuses. At the University of Texas in Austin, Occupy UT has been organizing to take action on a variety of issues in conjunction with other student organizations.
According to the student newspaper the Daily Texan, Occupy UT hosted a student forum on education the day after participating in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day March. As with many other Occupy movements on college campuses around the country, the cost of and access to higher education has become a major part of the dialog.
On the group’s web site is posted a list of grievances entitled “Declaration of the Occupation of the University of Texas at Austin.” Included are a range of issues from the cost of tuition and the rise in student loan debt, to the university’s ties to the military-industrial complex, major corporations, and major banks. However, the group is not officially recognized as a student organization by the university, and this has created some conflict between the students and the administration.
The Daily Texan reported that university officials have said that lack of communication between Occupy UT and the administration has prevented the students from enjoying the same privileges of other student organizations. However, a recent change in administration policy effectively banning camping on campus has been seen as a direct action against the student activists.
Trevor Hoag, a member of Occupy UT, told the Texas Independent that the administration has said that if the student activists want to have a physical occupation that it would have to be done under very specific parameters. Some of these parameters included keeping the number of tents low, the encampment would be required to maintain a certain aesthetic, and students would not be allowed to camp overnight.
“I think it’s pretty clear that this administration is trying to save face and prevent a public occupation,” said Hoag. “When the faculty council brought up the rules regarding camping on campus I think it was obvious that they were worried about the movement on campus and what it would look like if there were a physical occupation on campus.” Hoag went on to say that he thinks this is about preventing protest, but that it will not prevent Occupy UT from moving forward with protests and events.
“Occupy UT is the umbrella organization,” said Hoag. “We are trying to get other groups to unite toward common causes. This week we are going to have a walking tour partnering with the African Studies department on campus, and a professor is going to lead a talk about the statues and buildings on campus and the history of racism.” On campus a statue of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate States, and other statues and buildings named after Confederate figures and Ku Klux Klan members have all stirred controversy.
Hoag downplayed any friction between Occupy UT and the administration saying that “there is not necessarily any bad blood.” The major conflict between the two groups, says Hoag, is between the student activists’ desire to protest and the administration’s requirements to allow those protests. “The university wants any form of protest to be highly highly controlled,” said Hoag. “They will say yes we will work with you, but they want that protest to be controlled.”
While Hoag admits that they do have some “legitimate concerns” about safety, he says that it is mostly about control. “At the end of the day the administration would be more well served to say that we can take the criticism, they shouldn’t be threatened by us,” said Hoag. Despite the complications he believes that the Occupy Movement will continue at UT and throughout the country. “The city occupies and the national occupy groups are all going strong,” said Hoag. “Even the places where the camps were brutally dismantled, they are still going strong.”