Occupy Wall Street—the ongoing movement being held by protesters in the Wall Street financial district of New York City to protest and raise awareness of social and economic inequality in the United States and around the world—has been happening since the middle of September.
Similar demonstrations are being held in major cities across the U.S. and college students are jumping on the bandwagon to make their voices heard. Outrage over increased tuition and fees, student loan debt, and high unemployment rates are among their concerns.
Occupy Wall Street was mainly the brainchild of the non-profit Canadian-based Adbusters Foundation, an anti-consumerist pro-environment organization which began in 1989. The Internet group Anonymous, which originated in 2003, also encouraged followers to begin protesting. The slogan “We are the 99%” was selected to refer to the wealth and income divide between Americans—it has been suggested that the richest 1% of Americans own the majority of all financial wealth.
Demonstrations and marches protesting corporate greed and social and economic inequality began on September 17 and are still occurring. Some protesters are living in tents while others drop by to show their support when they can. Writers, educators, and even celebrities have joined union members, unemployed Americans, and other protesters.
Student protests are nothing new, and college student protesters are joining the Occupy Wall Street movement in droves—and not just in New York City. The National Student Solidarity Protest, organized by L.A.-based Occupy Colleges, held protests and events at roughly 140 campuses in approximately 25 states.
“We’re angry about the amount of debt we must attain to go to college and the drastic lack of employment opportunities,” is a quote from Sally Morgan, a graduate student at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.
“I fall into a group of students who come from a strong middle-class background that are now seeing the American Dream of middle-class living slowly slipping away from them,” 19-year-old Brooklyn native Guido Girgenti told The Huffington Post. “Like myself, a large portion of middle-class private university students are now seeing that their self-interest is deeply entwined with the self-interest of working-class students at public universities and community colleges.”
Alyssa Castiglia, a Northeastern University senior, agrees. “When I graduate, I’m going to have $125,000 in loans, which is $1,500 a month. I ask you, how am I supposed to live off that? I am the 99 percent, and it isn’t fair that someone who works hard can’t succeed,” she told the media.
According to an October 14, 2011 Reuters press release, college students across the U.S. handed out flyers, hung informative signs and organized sit-ins, marches, and walk-outs.
Walk-outs are just what they sound like—college students are walking out of class to protest. “Today, we are walking out of your class,” a group of Harvard students told their Economics professor, Gregory Mankiw, claims the Adbusters blog.
“Teach-Ins” are also being held for students to hold organized discussions with various professors to give everyone a chance to voice their concerns in a peaceful setting. “The whole idea behind the teach-ins is to bring students and their teachers together to start talking about not just the issues, but some answers,” 31-year-old Natalia Abrams, one of Occupy Colleges’ organizers, explained to The Huffington Post. “This is all about gaining momentum and building consciousness.”
At least one college student is not only protesting for Occupy Wall Street, he’s earning college credit for his actions. Henry Perkins, a 21-year-old junior at the University of Alabama, arrived in New York roughly three weeks ago. He asked his professors for permission—and “they said to go for it,” Perkins told The New York Daily News. He connects with his class twice per week via Skype so he can listen to lectures and give students and professors updates from “the front lines.”
If you’re wondering how he managed to let his professors agree to that one, Perkins is enrolled in an interdisciplinary program that allows students to design their own majors. One requirement is an independent project consisting of at least 20 hours spent on a venture of the student’s choice and a detailed log of the experience.
“For the independent learning project, I told him he could research and write about the Occupy Wall Street movement” and how it fits into “the larger context of civil disobedience within American History,” his professor Catherine Roach explained.
Despite the hordes of college students showing their support for Occupy Wall Street, there are also students going against the grain because they just don’t see the point or agree with their angry counterparts.
Robert E. Lee, a 20-year-old junior at Auburn University, told USA Today that he believes Occupy protesters have an unwarranted sense of entitlement. “I heard one girl on the radio who was upset because she had to pay off her student loans and she thought that she shouldn’t have to do that,” he said. “You deal with it. You pay them off as it goes and then you won’t have to deal with them anymore.”
Geof Tibbs, a 24-year-old graduate student at California State University, agrees—he feels the protesters are failing to take responsibility for their own situation, and that many students’ frustrations are their own fault. “You should have made better college choices,” he told USA Today. “I appreciate creative artists, but if you wanted to get a degree in art and you don’t want to teach, I don’t know what you expected.”
Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.
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