This article was originally published in The New School’s online publication, New_S.
As the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement continued to draw national attention and sympathetic demonstrations around the country and across the globe, a group of New School faculty and students saw an opportunity to bring the energy of the streets into the classroom. With coordination by members of the University Student and Faculty Senates and others, The New School hosted an Occupy Wall Street teach-in, a full day of presentations, working groups, and informal gatherings, on Saturday, October 22. With the dual mission of exploring this movement’s roots and thinking about its future, the teach-in provided what New School President David Van Zandt called “an opportunity to explore questions of inequality and access with peers from across the university.”
“Many of us have been actively involved in OWS from the outset, so bringing it to the university felt like a natural next step,” said Bronwyn Lewis, a student senator representing The New School for Public Engagement, where she is enrolled in the New School Bachelor’s Program. “We had already been talking about presenting an OWS panel when Dean David Scobey suggested that we coordinate with the Faculty Senate to plan a broader event.”
Activists, New School students and faculty members, journalists, and curious neighbors came to 66 West 12th Street for discussions such as “Why Did the Arab Spring Happen and How Can It Be Linked to OWS?,” “The Media and OWS,” and “Police Brutality and OWS.” The Nomadic University, a new initiative that sees the OWS movement as an opportunity to press for radical reforms in U.S. higher education, presented “The University and OWS.”
“AS a member of the Faculty Senate, I aimed to identify how the university can engage with these events in a way that allows us to learn about and from them,” said professor Ted Byfield, associate director of communication design and technology at Parsons. “We don’t know where the Occupy movement will be in a year, or two, or five, but we do know that The New School will be here—and we’re seeking to adopt the best aspects of what’s happening. That means fostering open forums of communication and organization, and creating events and environments that emphasize diversity and collaboration.”
Faculty discussion leaders and organizers included Heather Chaplin and Marco Deseriis from Eugene Lang College and Jeff Goldfarb and Elzbieta Matynia from The New School for Social Research. The director of advising at Eugene Lang College, Leah Weich, is leading an ongoing working group that seeks to articulate the demands of the movement.
Many participants agreed that The New School, with its tradition of outspoken dialogue and free debate, is the ideal site for an OWS teach-in. “The New School is a place that protects and defends free speech through open discussions around politics, economics, and society at large,” said Liz Hynes, who works in the Eugene Lang College dean’s office and who played a central role in planning this event. “We have already had a few discussions for a spring teach-in and what that might look like. Let’s hope this momentum keeps up through the winter.”