In a meeting with department chairs, Emory College Dean Robin Forman discussed Occupy Atlanta’s involvement in the recent protest on campus and refuted claims that the Student Re-Visioning Committee (SRC) had met with him to discuss the department changes.
The SRC developed in response to administrators’ decision to reallocate resources and eliminate certain programs and departments within the College and Laney Graduate School. Forman announced the reallocations in a University-wide Sept. 14 email.
At the Dec. 5 meeting, sources say Forman claimed Occupy Atlanta demonstrators and professional political organizers were among the group of protesters during the Dec. 4 sit-in.
“There are those that are trying to embed this in a larger issue and that’s an issue of interest and significance to many,” Forman said in an interview with the Wheel.
Forman said Emory College, faculty and students are his sole focuses and that there are individuals within the movement who want to engage in a different conversation other than the department changes.
“That’s not my priority,” Forman said.
During the meeting, Forman said that professional political organizers efficient in organizing political rallies were among the group. Forman did not elaborate as to how the political organizers could have influenced the group, according to sources.
SRC leaders confirmed Forman’s belief that some SRC members are associated with Occupy Atlanta. Elizabeth Hennig, a College sophomore, and Andrew Ratto, a fourth-year political science graduate student, were, according to Hennig, previous leaders in the Occupy Atlanta movement.
However, Hennig said Occupy Atlanta could not have played a true role in SRC’s decision-making processes because Occupy Atlanta is currently a non-entity and has “dissolved” since the Occupy protests in fall 2011. Hennig did acknowledge that individuals from the general Atlanta activist community were able to join protesters during the Dec. 4 sit-in because the Administration Building was open to the public throughout most of the day.
Many members of the SRC claim that it was not possible for the Occupy Atlanta movement to have any governing control of the SRC by citing the group’s voting procedures during the sit-in. During the protest, SRC leaders held formal votes to determine what the collective body’s course of action would be in response to proposals from administrators.
“[The SRC] is Emory-driven, Emory-focused and Emory-led,” said Patrick Blanchfield, a leader of the SRC and a comparative literature graduate student. “[During the sit-in,] we were solely democratic, everything that was done was part of a majority vote. Those votes were driven by members of the Emory community.”
Occupy Atlanta’s involvement in the Dec. 4 sit-in first arose following an alleged act of vandalism that occurred on the first floor of the administration building. The phrase “OCCPY A” was written on the walls of a bathroom. Hennig noted that the words closely resemble “Occupy Atlanta.” This vandalism was a point of discussion during the Dec. 4 meeting with University President James W. Wagner.
According to a Dec. 6 Wheel article, the SRC later determined that a group of students wearing all black were reportedly responsible. The protesters accused them of vandalism and asked them to leave the demonstration.
During the department chair meeting, Forman also said the SRC had never formally asked to meet with him until the sit-in.
“This group has never, in any way that I recognize as such, invited me to meet with them,” Forman said. He added that the SRC “approached me with lists of demands and said there could be no more further interaction until I agreed with those demands. I don’t view that as an invitation to an open conversation. “
Members of the SRC see the issue differently, citing that same unscheduled Nov. 5 encounter when they handed Forman a list of demands in his office. In a video posted on YouTube by the SRC, a group of students confronts a surprised Forman with a letter.
“The fact that he didn’t have a secretary pencil in a meeting is a secondary issue to whether or not there is video of us meeting with him in his office,” Blanchfield said. “It is profoundly disingenuous to say that he did not meet with us.”
— By Dustin Slade