Students involved in the University of Connecticut’s Occupy movement didn’t take a break from protesting during finals week—they set up a permanent occupation in the library while simultaneously studying for exams and writing papers.
Campus police were called by security guards on Sunday night, but in a refreshing shift from violent encounters at numerous other schools, students opened up a peaceful dialogue with officers about the first amendment and free speech.
According to a 17-minute video posted on Facebook, a campus security guard told the occupiers that the political messages on their signs had to go. Police officers later clarified that the university policy would not allow their signs to be visible and posted in their library space, regardless of politics and Occupy related messages.
There was a conversation between students and officers over why university policies about free speech were unnecessarily stringent. One female police officer even declared that she applauded the students for seeking out the proper methods to address these systemic issues, but ultimately they had to enforce rules and regulations of the school.
“We did tape signs on the table so, you’re right, technically we broke the rules. But the whole reason we exist and why this whole thing is here is because the rules are so fucked.”
This isn’t the only action taken by Occupy Uconn activists to combat suppression of first amendment rights. Earlier in November rapper Jasiri X gave a controversial concert at the University of Connecticut and performed the one song that Uconn’s student government requested he didn’t: “Occupy (We are the 99).” The Pittsburgh native’s lyrics speak to the inequality of the US government’s financial bailout Wall Street and other sentiments of the Occupy movement.
"And nobody got more welfare than Wall Street/Hundreds of billions after operatin’ falsely/and nobody went to prison/that’s where you lost me/but my home, my job and my life is gonna cost me."
The student government wrote into Jasiri X’s contract that he couldn’t perform this song because they did not want to align themselves with a political message. Uconn’s student government removed Colin Neary, a senior class senator, who served as the event’s organizer.
In response to the university’s failure to defend free speech, the campus Occupy movement organized a “Funk Censorship!” dance rally. The group has also organized teach-ins with over 70 students in attendance and hosted six general assemblies over the course of the semester.
Occupy Uconn even performed street theatre action with other local occupations when Michael Moore spoke at the university on November 18—as a result, the filmmaker ended up giving occupiers 30 free tickets to the lecture.
Occupy Uconn is a small occupation at a massive university, but their actions echo a widespread message at other campus and university movements nationwide: students should be allowed to utilize freedom of speech in demonstrating their outrage over the government’s role in income inequality and high tuition costs—even during finals week.