Occupy Columbia University interrupted a Barnard SGA town hall on Monday evening to criticize Barnard administrators for what students called a lack of transparency.
An hour and a half into the meeting, about 15 students began chanting in an Occupy Wall Street-style “mic check” statement, voicing their opposition to Barnard’s recent administrative decisions—and receiving no response from Barnard officials in the room.
The students were protesting Barnard’s calling the NYPD to increase security on Barnard’s campus during an Occupy meeting last week, the recently-announced policy requiring students to pay full-time tuition, and the required meal plans introduced last year.
After a handful of questions during the Student Government Association Q&A session, Justine Lyons, BC ’13, stood up and read a statement articulating Barnard student concerns over a lack of transparency in the administration’s decision-making. After each sentence, the Occupy Columbia students seated throughout the room repeated Lyons’ words verbatim.
“Not only does Barnard disregard student input when making decisions, but it also precludes the opportunity for students to voice their opinions on such pressing issues,” Lyons said. “Barnard prides its students on being bold and strong, yet when we stand up for ourselves, objecting to its unfair policies, we are met with indifference and outright resistance.”
Lyons also spoke about the Occupy Columbia University meeting last Tuesday, when Barnard’s administration brought the NYPD to increase campus security. Occupy Columbia students had planned to hold a general assembly in front of Barnard Hall, but were moved to the Diana Center and had to show their IDs to access the campus—as did other students.
On Monday, Occupy Columbia members released an open letter to Barnard officials, calling the added security an overreaction.
“Tuesday’s events, while not physically violent like the recent repression of students’ rights and freedoms at UC-Davis and CUNY Baruch, demonstrated that Barnard administrators too desire to silence voices critical of their policies and practices,” the statement said.
Barnard Dean Avis Hinkson responded with an email to students, saying that Barnard’s administration was not trying to prevent students from demonstrating on the steps of Barnard Hall, “but rather chose to move indoors to the lower level of the Diana Center due to the rain. Director [of Public Safety] Pennetti asked only that they not block access to walkways or entrances.”
Monday’s town hall had been called by SGA to explain to students where their tuition money is going—something that many Barnard students called a pressing issue following the administration’s decision in October to not allow students taking fewer than 12 credits to pay part-time tuition. Barnard Chief Operating Officer Greg Brown and Vice President of Development Bret Silver spoke to a full room for the first hour of the meeting.
In response to Lyons’ statement, Brown said, “It doesn’t sound like there’s a question there.” He provided no additional comment.
Lyons also used the open mic statement to call for more student involvement in future policy changes.
“Behind-the-scenes deliberation over policies that will directly affect the future of students is simply unethical and unacceptable,” Lyons said. “Transparency is not optional. We demand that Barnard take full accountability and act immediately to accommodate all of the aggrieved student body members.”
SGA members were quick to attempt to refocus the meeting on questions related to Barnard’s spending.
“We want to reiterate that this is not a protest,” Sarah Steinmann, BC ’13 and SGA vice president of communications, said.
Nino Rekhviashvili, BC ’14 and an Occupy Columbia participant, said that the demonstration is only the beginning of the Occupy Columbia movement.
“I think that they’re [the administration] worried now because they did see that we’re passionate about this and were not going to stop making statements and we’re going to press this issue until something’s done about it,” she said.
After the meeting adjourned, Brown said that he was unbothered by Occupy Columbia’s staged statement.
“I think students have a right to have an opinion, and they have a right to voice the opinion. So I think it was perfectly fine for them to do so, and I just heard what they had to say,” Brown said.
“We decided to do people’s mic because we didn’t want to say at the beginning that we are Occupy Columbia because we recognize that these issues affect a lot of people,” Lyons said. “We didn’t want to exclude anyone that that statement could potentially cover, but at the same time we did want it to be known that we are Occupy Columbia.”
Rachel Ferrari, BC ’13 and SGA vice president, said she was glad that Occupy Columbia University showed up.
“It was an incredible thing to occur at a time like this because usually it’s only SGA reps sitting around,” she said.