Protesters, administration brace for Occupy USF

Students received specific instructions: Bring a sleeping bag, schoolwork and a towel for showering in Campus Recreation Center locker rooms. Leave behind tents, drugs, alcohol and violence.

Starting Wednesday, the Occupy movement moves onto campus with Occupy USF, which will reside outside of Cooper Hall. Occupy USF plans to team up with Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in its protests.

Michael Blosser, a graduate student studying applied physics, said he helped organize the movement after attending Occupy Tampa. Realizing he was unable to keep up with school needs and attend the downtown event, he decided to bring the movement closer, he said.

“I saw the Occupy movements grow in the news, and I was so encouraged by what was happening,” Blosser said. “So many people just go to college to party or just get a degree, but we want to start an intellectual discussion on campus about the best way to solve our society’s problems.”

On Wednesday at 3 p.m., protesters from SDS and Occupy USF will march from Cooper Hall to the Patel Center to stage a sit-in until administrators hear their demands. At 5 p.m., Occupy USF will return to Cooper Hall.

Dustin Ponder, a junior majoring in English and SDS member, said the group, which protested tuition hikes last month, has not yet been granted a meeting with USF Provost Ralph Wilcox.

The Occupy USF movement will fight “against our very own top 1 (percent): Judy Genshaft & Provost Ralph Wilcox,” according to SDS’ Facebook page.

“We want to unite the 99 percent of campus – students, faculty, staff and people who work here – so we can have a say in how this university is run, not just the top 1 percent,” Ponder said. “Occupy will keep protesting until the 99 percent have a say on this campus.”

Yet, in light of the aftermath of other Occupy movements, which have led to arrests and property damage, not all administrators are enthused about the initiative.

In a letter sent on behalf of USF to the student leaders, administrators expressed both appreciation and caution toward the protesters’ motives.

“We all agree that USF enjoys a rich history of protecting the exercise of free speech rights on campus,” the letter said. “At the same time, we all recognize that USF has an obligation to preserve the health and safety of its students, employees and other members of the USF community.” The letter’s specific provisions included that no “pathways, sidewalks or fire lanes are blocked, no sound amplification is used, noise is kept to levels that are not plainly audible in classrooms or offices” and “there is no interruption or disturbance to instruction, other students, faculty or university operations including lawn and property maintenance.” Tents and sleeping on school grounds are also prohibited.

Students were told they would also be held to the same academic and attendance policies during the protests.

Blosser, who said he will continue to keep up with school, expects to see people come and go from the protest grounds.

“We want to have a 24/7 presence, but we understand that people have other responsibilities.”

University Police (UP) spokesman Lt. Chris Daniel said UP is not too concerned about the movement.

“We’re just going to monitor the situation and let the circumstances dictate how we handle it,” he said. “We’re pretty used to people on campus expressing their free speech, and we generally don’t require involvement.”

Blosser said there is no tentative end date to the movement, though its Facebook page said protesters will be there until January.

“We’ll be there until our goals are met – as long as we can.”