“Occupy Wall Street” Course at MSU

OWS protestors at Zuccotti Park, courtesy of Gosia Smerdel, anthropology major at MSU

Occupy protestors may have left the quad at Montclair State University, but the spirit of the movement is alive and well in the Anthropology Department, which will be offering a course on Occupy Wall Street (OWS) next fall.

Dr. Julian Brash, assistant professor of anthropology at MSU and author of Bloomberg’s New York, will be teaching the class. He said the idea to teach the course initially came from a student in one of his classes who messaged him on Facebook and suggested that he teach a class on Occupy Wall Street.

Brash feels that OWS has anthropological significance because it deals with issues such as inequality, politics, public space and protest.

“One of the things that anthropologists study, particularly in the U.S., is how peoples’ ideas about themselves and society have shifted over time so that levels of inequality and the erosion of the social welfare state have been taken for granted and sort of naturalized,” said Brash. “So to see that disrupted was very interesting.”

Currently, about 11 or 12 students are registered for the 400-level anthropology seminar, which will consist of a lot of discussion and reading, according to Brash.

The course also relates to Brash’s own research interests on how urban development, public space and urban planning are related to class issues and politics in cities, as well as Mayor Bloomberg’s reaction to the occupation of Zuccotti Park.

“There’s this sort of anarchist strain in anthropologists,” said Brash. “And so the whole kind of horizontal decision making was really hooked into a certain strain, particularly in political anthropology, that I’ve always been interested in.”

MSU is not the only university to offer a course in OWS, nor is it the first. This past semester, New York University introduced a class called, “Culture and Economies: Why Occupy Wall Street?” Chicago Roosevelt University offers an “Occupy Everywhere” course. Additionally, Columbia University offers an anthropology course called, “Occupy the Field: Global Finance, Inequality, Social Movement.” 

OWS reached out specifically to college students this past November when they launched the Occupy Student Debt Campaign, and  asked students to participate in a nationwide default on student loans once one million supporters signed the pledge. MSU students cited the nationwide student debt, which has supassed $1 trillion, as one of the main reasons for their Occupy MSU protest.

“That’s what’s so impressive about it [OWS],” said Brash. “It provides a kind of model. Occupying is a really powerful form of protest, rather than just protesting, because it disrupts things on a more ongoing basis.”

Derek Teixeira, an undergraduate anthropology major, is enrolled in the course and thinks that it will clarify aspects of the OWS movement and allow him to educate others. “Not only will I be learning about the movement itself – the demands, styles of occupying, how it uses both space and time effectively – but also its origins and similar movements around the globe,” said Teixeira.

He feels the course is essential because there is still confusion over what the movement is and what has become of OWS since protestors were evicted from Zuccotti Park last November.

“Most of the people whom I have spoken to about the movement are still not sure what its about, what they are fighting for,” said Teixeira. “Many are in support but are not sure where to begin, as there is no real headquarters in which to ask questions.”

36 COMMENTS

  1. I’m thinking about offering a course on that gas leak on Bloomfield Ave.

    Or may on this rash of lost cats.

  2. Taking courses like this, no wonder these kids can’t jobs.

    And the reason they can’t find jobs is because there are no jobs, not because you don’t approve of one of their college electives.

    Besides, the purpose of college is to learn, not to get a job.

  3. “Anthropological significance?” Really? Oh brother. And the one student quoted sounds about as good at making a serious point as Alec Baldwin. Or, for the oldsters out there, Warren Beatty. Will bathing be optional for registrants?

    These kids would be better off taking, say, a course on Shakespeare or the metaphyical poets. Or, given that this is coming from the Anthro department, on cultural diffusionism or the issues “Kennewick Man” raises. (And what, pray tell, does Mr. Teixeira plan to do with his anthro major if he ever himself actually graduates?)

    There’s a reason Montclair State is a third-string school. It’s hardly the academic jewel in Baristaville’s crown.

  4. Hey nick,

    If true that college is for learning, not jobs. Why is Obama, and the media so interested in the job stats for recent grads?

    Who cares? They’ve learned!!

    That degree in Ancient Chinese Folklore is to show the world how much you “learnt” you are, right?

  5. “And the reason they can’t find jobs is because there are no jobs”

    There is no shortage of jobs for those graduating with a practical degree such as engineering, accounting, finance, nursing, math, physics etc. I understand these make up a smaller % of the entire universe of majors however this is where the jobs are or where you have the greatest chance of being hired.

    Anthropology may be interesting however there is simply not many job opportunities to follow. This should be more obvious than it apparently is.

  6. How DARE you, stayhyphy?!! Takin’ away my life-long dream to study the native peoples of Kiribati!!! And I’m sure there’s a job that will jump to hire me for my deep understanding of life on an Atoll.

    Anyone can major in something that might be sought after by employers, but DON’T BOX ME IN, stayhyphy!!

    Oh, and hopefully, the American Citizen will help me pay off my 100k student loan I needed to learn about Gilbertese.*

    *For those dumb folks, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kiribati

  7. If true that college is for learning, not jobs. Why is Obama, and the media so interested in the job stats for recent grads?

    I have no idea, prof. In case you haven’t gathered, I am not Barack Obama, nor was I discussing Barack Obama. I was just pointing out that perhaps a student can perhaps learn something in college for the sake of learning, not for the sake of finding a job after graduation.

  8. nick, I don’t know who you are. You very well could be Obama. My simple point is that this is in the news now. (Why? because the rate- on new loans, I believe- were set to go up… And it takes everyone’s mind off the piddling economy that Obama has presided over– distractions…)

    But your idea is curious. What do you tell those OWSers who complain that they went to college, learned something, but can find no job? They were handed a bill of goods- go to college (study whatever you like) and you will find a job, buy a house and live happily ever after.

    Funny how that worked out, huh? Because as someone on Brian Lerher’s show pointed out, if she worked at McDonalds, and put all that college money in a 401(k), she’d be a millionaire. Instead, she can barely pay the interest on her student loans.

    But she learned a lot!!

  9. What do you tell those OWSers who complain that they went to college, learned something, but can find no job? They were handed a bill of goods- go to college (study whatever you like) and you will find a job, buy a house and live happily ever after.

    I’m not exactly sure what your point is here. That Obama promised people if they went to college they would find a job and live happily ever after? That’s basically the American Dream, right? Formed long before Mr. Obama was born.

    I’m not even entirely sure what your point is (as usual), other than to rant about our president. My point was that kids shouldn’t be discouraged from taking a college class just because said class doesn’t automatically translate into a job post-graduation. I took three Shakespeare classes that didn’t do anything to help me get a job, but I’m glad I took them regardless. I think an OWS class is kind of silly, but I’m not being forced to take it, and neither is anyone else, so who cares? I’d probably find half of MSU’s (or Harvard’s, for that matter) classes worthless.

    Because as someone on Brian Lerher’s show pointed out, if she worked at McDonalds, and put all that college money in a 401(k), she’d be a millionaire. Instead, she can barely pay the interest on her student loans.

    I’m not sure who on Brian Lerher’s show this was, but it’s basically nonsense, right? A normal college student takes out loans, so wouldn’t have been able to invest that money in a 401 (k). If the kid paid cash, it means the family had the money to begin with.

    Also, if it were that easy to be a millionaire, we’d all be one.

  10. Is this all that difficult to understand? If you want to use your education for the purposes of “learning” whatever might be interesting to your undeveloped 18 year old mind and not for working towards learning some sort of practical skill or knowledge that’s absolutely fine with me. More power to you.

    Maybe you are independently wealthy and do not need to work HOWEVER if that is not the case please DO NOT cry about the fact that you can’t find work.

  11. A course on ancient Chinese folklore sounds great. What better way to understand 1/4 of the world’s population.

    An OWS class would be interesting. It would be about growing income disparity, growing government disfunction and how it spawned a movement. That until now failed. Why did it fail? Why do any movements fail or succeed? What would success have even looked like?

    If taught with rigor, there’s a lot to learn from OWS. Not least of which are lessons on mass propaganda campaigns.

  12. ” ‘Anthropological significance?’ Really? Oh brother. ”
    good one, cathar.

    While in college, I had the dubious privilege of attending a lecture by a guy named Rabbi Meir Kahane. He got up there behind the lectern, and mocked the kids who took an interest in things like “anthropological significance” ( he thought all non-Jews hated all Jews, too, and suggested that all the Jews in the audience go to any local bar, buy a beer, and listen to all the Jew haters in each and every stool and booth, as a salient anthropological exercise that would out-trump any classroom lecture by a pretentious professor ( no, not you, prof wms ) , but that’s a different post for a different time.

    And as you know, cathar, like Dickey Betts wrote about his dad in “Ramblin Man” , the militant Rabbi and JDL founder “wound up on the wrong end of a gun”. But no, his son was not “born in the back seat of a Greyhound bus, rolling down Highway 41″… And you thought Meir Kahane and Dicky Betts’ father had nothing in common.

  13. Is this all that difficult to understand?

    It’s not that I don’t understand your argument, stan. It’s that your argument is idiotic.

    If the job market is terrible, it’s still terrible even if some kid took a class on OWS, or a tennis class, or a pottery class. The economy doesn’t improve if every kid who took a class on OWS chose to take Economics 101 instead.

  14. Actually, Spiro, I NEVER think about Meir Kahane. He was a bloodthirsty clown. (Although I was amused by one of his slogans, “For every Jew, a .22.”)

    Unfortunately for Al Sharpton, Kahane was killed before the rise of the “reverend” via the Tawana Brawley mess. Can you imagine how the porcine process job would have milked Kahane amongst the numbskulls who imagine themselves Sharpton’s followers? And yet, too, good ol’ Montclair State does not offer a case on the madness symbolized by Tawana Brawley. Why is that, do you think? Surely the Brawley mess had genuine “anthropological significance”: according to Al and his two fellow miscreants, it involved the Klan, a county prosecutor’s office which was a virtual nest of IRA operatives, the media at its most gullible, nefarious Jewish “influences” in the background, etc.

    (And yet, all Tawana ever got out of it, in the end, was a brief featured appearance in a Public Enemy video.)

    I suspect that all we really need to know about this new academic course is that Professor Brash identifies with this “anarchist strain” he claims to find in anthropologists. (Respectful pause as moldering phoney Margaret Mead rolls in her grave; lordy, how did this woman ever reap such publicity for merely visiting Samoa?) His surname defines his wishful thinking, I might suggest, and it appeals to the young loudmouths like poor, doctrinaire, not terribly articulate Derek Teixeira.

  15. Conservatives’ memories are short when it comes to George W. Bush’s destruction of the economy, yet somehow the Rev. Al Sharpton can never be forgiven for believing Tawana Brawley. Hilarious.

  16. Cathar would prefer a course taught by Opus Dei operatives.

    Why, he might even teach such a course, aided by prof who would need a translation given the fact that he disdains any sort of “foreign” language ability.

    What a joy it would be to sit in on this mess!

  17. “What a joy it would be to sit in on this mess!”

    At 3 credits, cro– students would take it! (Especially when they hear their fave, “profwilliams” will be teaching.)

    @nick, did you not go to college? Back in the day, you could take out a student loan and get at REFUND of whatever was not covered. So, ah, yes. A kid could take that student loan money and invest (I know this first hand…).

  18. Come on nick, get with it!

    The prof knows what he’s on about! He teaches chem and astrophysics, and all of his students get jobs.

    Its not like he’s teaching some useless crap like Women’s Studies or Film or something.

    Why, I hear he double-majored in nursing and physics. No wonder he lives on an estate!

  19. @nick, did you not go to college? Back in the day, you could take out a student loan and get at REFUND of whatever was not covered. So, ah, yes. A kid could take that student loan money and invest (I know this first hand…).

    God, prof, I pray you’re not teaching anything important.

    You said before that someone could put “all that college money” into a 401 (k), but you don’t get a college loan unless you go to college.

  20. Funny, when GWB was President, I didn’t have as many friends and family members out of work (some for more than a year), filling up your gas tank didn’t put you in hock, and homes increased in value, not decreased. I’m not saying the man was a saint and without fault, but most people were better off financially than they are now. Also, if GWB was as bad as everyone paints him to be, how come we didn’t have OWS protests back then? Sure, we had isolated protests but none on the scale we have now, in almost every state.

    Re: Rev Al and his part in the Tawana Brawley incident. Never once did he apologize for his actions and their consequences. It was all swept under the rug, never to be seen again. Heck, he even has his own TV show!

  21. I’m not saying the man was a saint and without fault, but most people were better off financially than they are now.

    He drove the economy into the ground, and took off to let everyone else clean up the mess. There were thousands and thousands of job losses every month for years when he was president. Meanwhile, there have been job gains every month since about three or four months after Obama took over.

    Your comment basically proves what I said before: you have amnesia for Bush’s faults, and a long, long memory for Sharpton’s. Alas, Bush’s faults ruined the country.

  22. Sorry, guys. You win. My years in higher ed aside, you seem to know way too much for my little bit of experience. I look forward to your ideas about what students should do: Financial Aid. Loans. Majors, etc. Do tell.

    Oh, and God knows no one is employed with a degree in Women’s studies or the Film industries, huh? All I know about film is there are more jobs, more opportunity than ever before with the internet- who do you think will create the full motion ad for B-net from your local dry cleaner? Not to mention, you know, the Film industry.

    But Women’s Studies is what I know best (my double major was Womyn’s Studies and Ancient Chinese Civilization; my Ph.D is in Gender Roles- don’t ask about my dissertation). And with it, my students have a strong foundation in the Humanities, which translates into any number of fields. So they end up working in HR, Education, Medical/Pharmaceuticals, and business.

    One even plays for the Jets!

  23. Well my goodness, prof!

    In one semester, you’re able to teach students all about making film ads and about the role of women while at the same time giving them a “foundation” in the humanities and finding time to teach them how to block downfield on the sweep.

    Whatever you’re paid, its not enough.

    But it is always instructive to hear teachers rail about the uselessness of just about every major, save the ones they teach of course!

  24. Do you really think, nickcharles, that Al Sharpton “believed” one word of Tawana Brawley’s ridiculous story? I don’t. Instead, he seized on it, along with his fellow fools, as a means of getting noticed and stirring up anger against white folks, whom I will never believe one whit he likes.

    It really wasn’t much of a story, after all. And it just got worse and worse in the telling. (They really did claim that an assistant DA led an IRA support cell, for example, and was in cahoots with a local klavern.) It was a sad chapter in media history, but I still think it was of genuine “anthropological significance.” Cynical and scabrous, you betcha, but of great significance. So no, nick, it should never be forgotten. And what did we learn from it? That even as one rages as a professional bigot, particularly as an anti-Semite, a liberal-minded cable station will “forgive” him and give him his own show. Somewhere, Dr. Goebbels is nodding approval.

    I’d personally be honored even to simply audit any course the good prof teaches. Far better that than to prop oneself in front of a peat fire and listen to croiagusanam rage haplessly. In every post of his, there are echoes of a very frustrated pedant indeed.

  25. Yes, too, walleroo, your own posts are models of economy, probity and soberness. Even the ones where you imagine yourself living under someone’s porch boards.

    Frankly, against them I’d rather play canasta.

  26. Again, how amazing how difficult it is for some to understand. Try to see the forest for the trees. One OWS class is not going to kill anyone’s job prospects. The more general point is we have students studying areas that have no immediate practical application in today’s world. (You would think we would adapt) Yes there is something to be said for learning how to learn and it would be great in that regard if everyone could spend 4 years studying what it was that truly interested them but that is not reality, unless of course you don’t need to earn a living. If you do need to earn a living and make the decision to study something useless (from a practical standpoint), that’s your risk.

  27. I think that cathar might do quite well in one of the prof’s courses. Those youngsters might hear him sputter impotently and toss words like “scabrous” around and think, in their own naive way, that he knows something. Ah, but they’ll soon learn that he is indeed the sound and the fury, signifying nothing. And doing so in an exceptionally boring way, I might add.

    As for Sharpton, I think everyone learned that a “bigot” can get a show long before he came along. We need only look to Rush Limbaugh for that lesson.

    Class dismissed!

  28. There’s a lot of elitism in the belief that “everyone” ought to go to college. Especially when so many kids spend their first college year or two in remedial studies to fill in the gaps from their previous 12 years.

    Diminishing the value of plumbers, electricians, painters, body shop metal workers, etc doesn’t really serve anybody well. These are honorable crafts, and pay well. Many plumbers, etc enjoy a comfortable and satisfying living.

    If a kid has an interest in any of these areas, it should be encouraged, I’d think.

  29. “There’s a lot of elitism in the belief that “everyone” ought to go to college. Especially when so many kids spend their first college year or two in remedial studies to fill in the gaps from their previous 12 years.”

    That’s a problem that, due to all the debt being encouraged by government subsidy, will solve itself. The colleges are filled with lackluster students spending borrowed dollars many will never pay back. The education bubble has swelled the enrollment and debased the quality of instruction. (if you fail them they will leave and no longer pay you tuition).

    The result is state funded Doctors of Jazz History, and multitudes of other useless degrees. And such poor performance that the pieces of paper are becoming slowly worthless.

    It like all other bubbles will collapse.

  30. Diminishing the value of plumbers, electricians, painters, body shop metal workers, etc doesn’t really serve anybody well. These are honorable crafts, and pay well. Many plumbers, etc enjoy a comfortable and satisfying living.

    I don’t see anyone on this thread saying that “everyone” should go to college. Its also important to note that Obama mentioned that access to trade schools and vocational schools as important. Plumbers, electricians, and body work jobs still require training, some of it very comprehensive. Lord knows the unions aren’t taking on many new apprentices, so loans for this kind of education need to be affordable too.

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