Students Debate "Occupy Harvard" in IOP Forum

Since roughly 350 protestors descended on Harvard Yard last Wednesday, campus has been abuzz with casual conversation about the “Occupy Harvard” movement—which has set up a tent city in front of the John Harvard statue. But undergraduates found an official forum to discuss the movement’s effectiveness and long term goals on Thursday night at the Institute of Politics.

The Harvard Political Union hosted “Occupy Harvard: A Student Discussion,” a lively debate during which undergraduates expressed mixed views on Occupy Harvard and its connection to the broader “Occupy” movement.

The event, hosted by Institute of Politics Director C. M. Trey Grayson ’94, featured a panel of students both in favor of and opposed to the protest.

The panel included Crimson editor and Occupy Harvard organizer Sandra Y. L. Korn ’14, Occupy Harvard supporter Dylan R. Matthews ’12, Harvard Political Review Editor-in-Chief Max D. Novendstern ’12, Crimson editorial writer Evan A. Ribot ’14, Institute of Politics President Jeffrey F. Solnet ’12, and Student Labor Action Movement leader William P. Whitham ’14.

At the forum’s opening, Korn defended the validity of Occupy Harvard and its aims, citing the contract recently won by Harvard custodial workers as one success of the student rallies.

“We are demanding that the custodians get a fair contract with the University,” Korn said. “The fact that there was a large student presence and press coverage in that issue was something that did contribute to the custodians getting a good contract.”

Other panelists said that Occupy Harvard has failed to muster a significant amount of student support for a number of reasons.

Novendstern claimed that the movement has morphed into a “slam campaign” against the University, rather than one that unites students behind inspiring ideals.

“It’s not this broadly inclusive social movement,”  Novendstern said. “It struck me more as a specific, special interests campaign. It’s much harder for young progressives to sign onto that.”

Ribot said that he believes that the movement’s most serious flaw lies in its lack of communication with the student body.

“I find that the ways Occupy Harvard protestors were going about stating grievances and their implementation was misguided,” Ribot said.

He also said that by joining the Occupy movement, students have closed themselves off from opportunities to effect change by working within the system.

When the discussion was opened up to comment from audience members, students in attendance both criticized and praised the demonstration.

While some were openly supportive of the efforts of protestors, others said that they were deterred by the little information on the movement’s goals and future plans they had received.

Whitham responded by pointing out ways interested students could learn more about Occupy Harvard.

“If you go to the info tent, if you come ask us, or if you go on our website, you’ll find out pretty quickly the issues we’re interested in,” he said.

But many agreed that the movement has succeeded in sparking thought-provoking conversations throughout the Harvard community.

“One of the great virtues of the campaign is that it scandalized the campus,” Novendstern said. “If anything, that was the resounding success of the movement.”

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