On Tuesday, Nov. 15, Occupy Mary Wash held a student-run teach-in, which discussed the influence that the Board of Visitors has on the University and its power structure, in preparation for the protest they have planned this weekend.
The protest, which will consist of occupying the space in front of the Jepson Alumni Center and Ridderhoff-Martin Gallery and will include an actual “occupation,” teach-ins and a potluck dinner, coincides with the BOV meeting schedules for this weekend.
The students at the teach-in were generally frustrated at what they felt to be increased commoditization of the school and a lack of student representation in BOV meetings.
Senior Peter Hawes felt the Oct. 7 Pep Rally, at which the new UMW tagline was unveiled, particularly emphasized the greater push for commoditization.
“These are superficial changes for increasing community,” said Hawes
Senior Colleen Brooke said, “What’s important is that we all realize that education is becoming a business. What we can do with the BOV is to show them that we want our own voice.”
Hawes said that he felt the student representation at BOV meetings is lacking.
“We don’t have very much representation, and what representation we do have is inaccurate,” Hawes said. “Students and faculty can attend the [BOV] meetings, but may not speak out or vote on anything.”
Currently, Student Government Association President Ashley Nixon, a senior, is the student representative to BOV meetings.
“I’m not sure where that’s coming from,” said Nixon. “Before I make comments on any issue, I’m given information from the SGA Executive Cabinet and student senate representatives.”
Nixon said that the SGA is taking every action possible to reach out to students, and if they people believe they are not being represented accurately, she encourages them to contact her.
“I’m all for meeting with any individuals and groups regarding any issue,” stated Nixon.
Nixon stated that any changes to the BOV’s power structure would have to go through Va. Gov. Bob McDonnell’s office.
“I’m not against change, but that that’s outside of my jurisdiction,” Nixon said.
Chief of Staff and Clerk of the Board of Visitors Marty Wilder attended the teach-in.
“I thought it was a very good meeting,” Wilder said. “It was an open discussion and educational.”
When asked what he thought about the topics discussed, Wilder stated that he came to learn.
“I serve as clerk of the Board and I wanted to see what information is being presented,” Wilder stated.
Junior Mattson Fields, who led the teach-in with sophomore Upma Kapoor, thought it was a success.
“I really loved the turnout,” he said. “I’m glad Marty Wilder came.”
According to Fields, about 30 people attended the teach-in.
“At General Assemblies, we usually get 30 to 45 people. At our last teach-in, we got about 15 or 20. I’m glad it’s gaining momentum,” said Fields.
“The most important thing we do is getting the school involved with talking,” Fields continued. “Ideally, we change the fundamentals of the system and make it more representative of student interests.”
Senior Evan McLaughlin also commented on the role of Occupy Mary Wash during the teach-in.
“We are not a legislative group, we are a conversation that is a rejection of the power structure,” said McLaughlin.
Junior Rob Belcourt, SGA vice president and president of the student senate attended the teach-in.
“A lot of the occupy goals in terms of student life can be directly addressed by the SGA. We are very active this year and communication is getting better,” Belcourt said. “We can’t really address structure concerns, but we can handle academic and student life concerns.”
“I think this meeting was very productive,” Belcourt added. “This is an important dialogue and it would be foolish to ignore it. It’s up to the students to hold us accountable.”
Student Senate President Monique dela Cruz also attended the teach-in. She stated that it is important to have tangible concerns because the SGA agrees with them and needs tangible goals to be able to help.
This was the second teach-in Occupy Mary Wash has held.
According to senior Allie Atkeson, “Teach-ins are a form of non-violent protest that works to educate individuals on a particular issue. They became popular in the mid ’60s during the Vietnam War at various colleges across the U.S.”
“Teach-ins facilitate consciousness raising—an important aspect of every social movement,” Atkeson believes.
According to Hawes, “Students and faculty can attend the meetings but may not speak out or vote on anything.”
“We use the same practices of Occupy Wall Street but focus on the injustices of UMW and economic issues,” said Atkeson. “It is important to realize we are dealing with one specific example of the whole movement.”
According to Hawes, Occupy Mary Wash was formed as a response to the national Occupy movement, which deals with issues of a wide variety of national issues. As a result, group membership is open to students, faculty members and the Fredericksburg community members.
Photo by Marie Sicola. To see more of her pictures from the teach-in, click here.