Occupy Dartmouth

From the beginning of the school year in Hanover, they’ve made themselves known. Occupy Dartmouth, standing in solidarity with the great and now international Occupy movement, cemented their mark on campus at their ‘base camp’ outside the Collis Center, organizing protests and opening themselves to political and economic discussion with the community. Although the snow has come and the tent is now down for the winter, Occupy Dartmouth emphasizes that it is still going strong.

The members are working through the winter, looking to further ongoing initiatives, and taking on new battles to continue into the spring and beyond.

I had the opportunity to sit down with two of Occupy’s members, Nathan Gusdorf ’12 and Aimée Le ’12 to talk labor, recruiting culture, and other initiatives Occupy is concerned with. Although the movement has no official leaders, both were with Occupy Dartmouth at its inception and continue to spearhead some of its biggest enterprises.

They explained to me that throughout the fall, Occupy was mostly focused on gathering a following and “raising awareness” for their movement. Among their biggest jobs were the physical burdens of the occupation and showing support for the greater movement. Even picking the name was a big deal. The Occupy Dartmouth name was a conscious choice as opposed to an Occupy Hanover moniker. As Le explained, “We wanted to show that this is getting support at one of the most corporatized, most prestigious schools in America.”

Part of this support included general advocacy for the cause and getting people engaged in “a different type of political discourse.” While many write these conversations off as overly philosophical and impractical, Gusdorf argues people just aren’t used to this type of discussion. He lauds the diversity of political ideas and stances, arguing that it is in fact one of the movement’s greatest advantages. “No one is trying to claim a platform,” he stated. “That’s what its about. Trying to have a more rich and committed political discourse.”

Le added that she has experienced initial hostility from both political sides, not just conservatives. The movement has seen frustration from liberals as they’ve attempted to adapt Occupy’s demands to a leftist agenda. She frequently heard supporters respond to some of her points, “This is great. How can we get this to be something for Obama?” But if passerbies took the time to sit and speak with the Occupiers, Gusdorf and Le explained the people always came away with a much less extreme view of the movement.

However fruitful their tent discussions seem to be, Occupy’s biggest and most daunting initiative still seems to be confronting and even possibly trying to alter an historic mindset of one of the nation’s “most corporatized” schools.

Firstly, Gusdorf and Le were disappointed with the average Dartmouth student’s instant aversion to the labor movement in America. Gusdorf found that most students upon hearing his argument in support of labor would at be very unwilling to side with him. “They’re not comfortable supporting labor, the workers, the proverbial 99%. But at the same time,” he added, “They will say ‘Oh yea Wall Street is a huge problem.’” The two say that there has been relative success in presenting a rational view of labor to those they’ve spoken with.

But still perhaps the largest challenge Occupy Dartmouth looks to take on is a much broader one, Dartmouth’s general corporate nature and the push for students to investigate corporate recruiting. Even Gusdorf, a philosophy major, was influenced to check out what corporate recruiting had to offer. As he said, referring to consulting jobs he interviewed for, “there’s a lot of cultural and social pressure to investigate those careers. Everyone says ‘this is the most intellectually stimulating exciting work you can do. This is where the smart people go. And you make a lot of money.’” And his qualms did not stop there. As Gusdorf sees it, the overall mindset of the school and student body stems from a much larger inherent structural problem, from the disparity in resources available to students searching for corporate jobs as opposed to others to Trustees on the Board whose interests and ties to Wall Street are undeniable.

Said the two, “We think that we have two problems, one social and one structural. The social problem is that there is just a lot of attention and energy given to corporate recruiting. That means that people who don’t really have developed interests naturally get pulled in that direction. Even someone like me who does have developed interests still gets pulled in that direction. The structural problem is this issue of resources. What does the school enable you to do? It is so easy to apply for a corporate job. So many elements of the institution are set up to point people in that direction.”

Le, an English major finds it extremely alarming that “there’s no counseling or guidance here for students who want to pursue careers in academia, in the humanities.” She concedes there are non-profits that go through corporate recruiting, but still maintains, “All the structural elements line up so that there’s a profound focus with corporate recruiting”. She herself is part of academic fellowship program for students in academia, which partially fund students to get a PhD, but over the last few years, Le has seen half students going to law school, business school, or going into consulting.

But although these material problems may continue into the foreseeable future, so too does the movement continue, bolstered by increased community support.

The Occupiers are still willing to talk, and very much miss their Collis corner discussions. Said Gusdorf, “when you really make a commitment in public and a commitment to engage on the issues… you get to talk to the broadest range of people imaginable. It’s really incredible. The kinds of people that you meet and the type of honesty that you’re able to evoke, its very inspiring.” As the movement gains strength and starts to challenge the administration, it will be interesting to see how the Dartmouth community responds. It’s clear that Occupy isn’t going anywhere; just wait until they get their tent back.