After the Occupation: A Talk with a Cooper Union Protester

by Jillian Steinhauer on December 10, 2012

Students Rachel Appel (right) and Audrey Snyder (center) speaking last week on behalf of the Cooper Union occupiers (photo by Janelle Grace for Hyperallergic)

Following up on the news that the students who took up residence in the Cooper Union clock tower have ended their occupation, Hyperallergic spoke with Casey Gollan, one of the occupiers, about why they came down after a week and what they feel they’ve accomplished.

“We felt really good, because we had shaken up some of the administration,” Gollan said. “We had fulfilled some of the demands in terms of transparency with those board meeting minutes. I think they’ve been put in a really weird place. I can’t see them trying to defend these weird balances of power for much longer.”

Gollan also explained that the group didn’t want to expend all of its energy in one go:

We have a strategy going forward, which isn’t to burn out on one action. We had a solidarity statement from students in Mexico who had occupied their school for nine months. Our demands still stand, and some of them we can fulfill ourselves, and some of them we’re starting to see cracks in the administration’s confidence.

He said that the occupiers were encouraged by student-organized actions and protests on the ground during the week of the clock tower occupation, not least of which is the potential reorganization of the student government. “The way that students govern themselves right now is pretty standard, but we came down today and someone on the student council said, ‘We have to dissolve everything and create this new structure.'”

A loose rendering of the scheme of the spokescouncil (image courtesy Students for a Free Cooper Union)

That new structure is called a spokescouncil, diagrammed in the picture above. Gollan said it was a new idea for him and the other occupiers, but they’re excited about it. “Cooper has a lot of people with different opinions, so it’s been hard to get people excited and organized. So a spokescouncil breaks people down into a structure where people can work on stuff. This all happened in the last week, and now we’ll be coming down and plugging into this.”

Gollan said the Cooper Union group is gaining momentum from being in touch with people at InterOccupy, the group organizing and running the Occupy Sandy hurricane relief effort, as well as individuals at the City University of New York (CUNY) about possible joint initiatives between the two schools. And he added that the Cooper Union occupation was a success simply in terms of how long it went on: the students’ barricade was rammed by maintenance not long after they holed up in the clock tower, and they thought they would be evicted after a mere 20 minutes. Instead, they lasted a week, they decided was long enough.

“I think ultimately it’s a longer-term project than this occupation, which is just one action,” Gollan said.

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  • Vendor Trashed

    Isn’t Cooper Union a private school? If so, the board has no obligation to share any information with students about how they choose to operate. Also: I hate to be a jerk but even if the current student body feels the education they are receiving at Cooper Union isn’t worth paying for, I am sure there are PLENTY of prospective students who will gladly pay some amount of tuition to take their place when they leave.

    • I don’t think we should foster an environment where people are willing to undercut one another … doesn’t that always lead to a race to the bottom? Doesn’t sound healthy at all.

      • Jillian Steinhauer

        Sounds like a weird school enrollment version of scabs.

      • Vendor Trashed

        I meant that if the current student body does not feel that their CU education is worth whatever tuition the board decides to charge and they leave, I doubt the school will have any trouble filling the empty seats with students who do think a CU education is worth paying for. Honestly, I haven’t really been following the story too closely so I may be missing some facts. The protesters seem like a bunch of entitled brats to me and, if it is a private school, they should be grateful the board has tolerated their tantrum this long.

    • dannielle

      You obviously have no knowledge about the the school. No student pays, it’s merit based. It’s not a matter of “worth.” Paying tuition defeats the purpose of the school. Read up, boss.

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