As part of what may be signs of a springtime revival of the Occupy Movement, an array tents will cover the grassy quad outside the Montclair State University Student Center starting today as students led by the campus chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) begin their four-day long occupation in an effort to raise awareness about tuition increases, student debt, civil rights and other issues facing college students.
“We’re trying to have a lot of stuff for people to do,” said SDS member and MSU student, Justin Wooton. Students will be invited to make calls to their local legislators. There’s talk of an art tent, yoga and several teach-ins led by campus professors, as well as Occupy Newark’s Science and Sustainability Working Group. SDS will also offer free food and coffee that will not be provided by the school’s primary food supplier, Sodexo.
“The plan is to have people sleep out there,” said Wooton. “We might have to tell the administration that this is just an artistic display or something… I don’t think we’re going to get any serious pushback.”
The university did not approve a “camp out”, according to Dr. Karen Pennington, vice president of student life. Students are free to demonstrate, so long as they abide by university policies and an agreement they signed with the Dean of Students Office.
Since the SDS was dechartered by the Student Government Organization (SGA) in February for multiple violations of the university’s policies, the group does not receive any funding from the school and has been raising money through events like bake sales. Occupy Newark has donated the tents for this week’s camp out.
SDS member Greg Tuttle, an MSU student who has been involved with planning the event, said that he hopes this will get students talking about student debt, statewide tuition increases and the lack of federal funding in New Jersey for higher education.
“I think our first day [today] will be slow because MSU has not seen anything like an occupation before,” said Tuttle. “As the week goes on I expect us to draw in more people, not necessarily as occupiers, but people who will be interested in what we are doing. Hopefully they will stick around for some free food and a teach-in or two.”
If the group actually wants to stay overnight in the quad, they have to pay the campus police $2,000 to be present. They will be allowed to keep their tents up for the entire week, according to Tuttle, but no one can sleep in them between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.
“It is school policy that tents are not allowed for demonstrations, but this was waived for us,” said Tuttle.
Lt. Kiernan Barrett of the campus police said in an email, “As with any organization planning an event, students are expected to adhere to laws of this State and the policies of Montclair State University and the University will respect the Constitutional rights of all community members with regards to assembly and free speech.”
SDS have been planning the event since they met up with New Jersey United Students (NJUS), a coalition of public university students, earlier in the year at Rutgers University. NJUS began holding “tent-state” events about 10 years ago as a way to educate students on the war in Iraq.
Montclair will not be the only N.J. campus hosting a tent-state occupation this week. Rowan University students are also hosting a week-long event designed to “educate the public on political processes through civic engagement activities,” including workshops, guest speakers and performances by local musicians. Unlike MSU, however, Rowan students have the support of surrounding businesses and Sodexo, who will be providing occupiers with free catering.
Local residents of Little Falls and neighboring towns will be coming out tonight at 5:30 p.m. in a show of solidarity for Occupy MSU and will be meeting up outside the Student Center.