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Occupy hits Pitt's campus

By Katie Walsh
On February 1, 2012

  • Members of Occupy Pitt, a movement of University of Pittsburgh students, have formed a constitution similar to that of other Occupy movements across the nation. The Pitt Occupiers believe the University is becoming more of a corporation than an educational institution. The group holds weekly meetings at 2 p.m. Friday in Pitt’s Posvar Hall. Connor Dunphy/The Duquesne Duke
  • Occupy Pitt members hold one of their weekly meetings in Pitt’s Posvar Hall Friday afternoon. The group protests Pitt’s rising tuition and lack of financial aid. Connor Dunphy/The Duquesne Duke

University of Pittsburgh students have formed their own Occupy movement to protest what they say is the privatization of Pitt.

Following the example of Occupy Pittsburgh and other universities' Occupy initiatives, a group of 23 Pitt students formed Occupy Pitt to voice issues they have with the University.

According to Occupy Pitt spokesman Lucas Lyons, the group believes Pitt has recently become more privatized than a public educational institution should be.  Lyons pointed to Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg and the school's men's basketball team Coach Jamie Dixon who, according to the group, both make too much money for public university employees and are examples of the "separation of poor and rich."

"[The school] has turned from an education institution to an entertainment source," Lyons said. "We are working to raise awareness of this."

Occupy Pitt also plans to address and discuss student debt, increased state funding, and the lost relationship between the University's administration and its students, Lyons said.

Similar to the organization of Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Pitt meets for general assemblies to discuss problems with their University and determine how to bring those problems into the public eye in a peaceful but influential way. It also plans to join the National Occupy Colleges movement.

Last Friday, Occupy Pitt met in Posvar Hall and broke into two "working groups;" one group focused on determining what actions it would take to spread its message to the Pitt community and another worked on revising the coalition's constitution.

One of the general assembly facilitators, Ryan Branagon, a junior history and religious studies major, said Pitt functions like a corporation.  

"There is a lack of student voice on campus," Branagon said. "We are active members, not commodities … that is our general principle."

While working with half of Occupy Pitt's members on constitution ratifications, Branagon said what makes Pitt public is that it does not need to rely on "thrifty investments" past the education of its students which make a "crazy profit." Rather, what makes it public is that it is state-funded and should be solely focused on its students.

"The school should not function as a corporation," Branagon said.

Like other the nation's other Occupy movements, there is no one person who has been appointed leader of the Occupy Pitt movement. Rather, each student takes on their own personal part in the group and understands that it is for the benefit of a wide range of people whom they are working for.  

"By no means are we the faces of the movement," Goulordava said, regarding her individual efforts in the movement.

The group considered spreading awareness about their movement on campus by starting a roving tent, using the Occupy movement's now-customary "mic checks" on campus, and introducing the movement to the student government.  

Karina Goulordava, a member of Occupy Pitt and a senior Spanish and communications rhetoric student at Pitt, said the roving tent could be constructed in various locations across the campus for a few hours at a time. Painted with quotations and statistics regarding student debt and the need for action on the school's campus, it would serve as an information tent for students who are interested in Occupy Pitt and would be manned by the movement's members who could provide further information.

Considering whether Occupy Duquesne is a possibility, Meredith McKay, a sophomore speech pathology major said it could happen at Duquesne but it is a different situation because the school is private.

"I feel like students wouldn't protest because it's really strict here," McKay said. "I can't imagine it happening here."

Lindsey Lejj, a Duquesne sophomore middle level education major, said Duquesne students would not have enough reason to begin their own Occupy movement because it is a private university.

"That's what you get for being a private school. You knew coming into Duquesne what you were going to pay," Lejj said. "I think it [tuition] is too high but it's not like I didn't expect it."

Josh Douglas, a Duquesne senior studying entrepreneurship, said that he wouldn't be surprised if Duquesne students began their own Occupy movement because it is something the whole country is involved in and students may want to join in.

"I don't feel that students here have the grounds for it," Douglas said. "But I'm all for people expressing their needs if they want to."

Douglas said that Duquesne students typically come from wealthier families than those of Pitt students, therefore not having the same financial troubles that some Pitt students would have. Duquesne is also more generous with scholarships, according to Douglas, lifting even more of that financial burden.

"Duquesne is a lot easier with scholarship" Douglas said. "I don't want to bite the hand that feeds."


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