Grad Council Denounces Violence Against UC Occupiers

After an hour of heated debate, the Graduate Student Council passed a resolution Wednesday night decrying the violence used against students involved in Occupy protests at the University of California campuses at Davis and Berkeley.

“It was something that was so universal, that students shouldn’t be beaten and pepper-sprayed on their campuses,”  said Summer A. Shafer, a graduate student in the history of American civilization who sponsored the bill. “This resolution seeks to protect all students on Harvard’s campus from violent repercussion.”

The act, passed by a majority of 29 to 9, resolved two months of discussion on whether the GSC’s constitution allowed the council to vote on such a measure.

“There was a lot of debate as to what the role of the GSC is for graduate students,” said GSC President Cammi N. Valdez, a graduate student in biological and biomedical sciences. “When you have a resolution that acts as a blanket statement for all graduate students, there inherently will be debate.”

Before a vote on the main proposal was held, GSC Representative Laura A. McDaniel, a doctoral candidate in health care policy, sponsored a vote on the constitutionality of such a bill.

Some saw the prolonged debate on the issue’s constitutionality as reflective of flaws in the GSC’s structure.

“It shows the breakdown of that democratic process in the GSC and illuminates the need for serious transformation of those practices here on Harvard’s campus for graduates students,” said  Hannah L. Hofheinz, a teaching fellow at the Derek Bok Center.

Several representatives said they felt nervous about casting a vote on the contentious issue.

“Some representatives didn’t feel comfortable voting on the resolution,” McDaniel said. “We weren’t sure how to vote to represent our departments.”

The hot-button issue drew larger crowds than the GSC customarily attracts, representatives said. More than 70 individuals packed the Dudley House lounge to participate in the debate.

Council adviser Cherie L. Ramirez, a graduate student in biological and biomedical sciences who serves as a teaching fellow for the General Education program, saw the discussion as a positive learning experience for representatives.

“The last two meetings have been the most lively in five years,” Ramirez said. “It was interesting seeing that some representatives were uncomfortable with the idea of reaching out and representing their departments, because that is what they are supposed to do.”

Many representatives saw the experience as an opportunity to speak to other students in their departments in order to ensure that their votes reflected their department’s consensus.

“Clearly, students were behind the resolution, and the results reflect that,”  said Rudi Batzell, a doctoral candidate in history. “But the process was a fiasco, and it was ridiculous.”

—Staff writer David Song can be reached at davidsong@college.harvard.edu.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: Feb. 5, 2012.

An earlier version of this story misquoted Graduate Student Council adviser Cherie L. Ramirez. Ramirez said that the Council's two most recent meetings had been "the most lively in at least five years," not "the most interesting, with more participation and attendance than before."

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