Occupy Protests Spread Across College Campuses

The Occupy Wall Street movement is planning a series of strikes and protests on college campuses Thursday. The movement and its encampments are proving to be a challenge for administrators at some schools.

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Occupy protestors across the country are planning special marches and rallies today. That's because it was exactly two months ago that the movement began in a New York City park. An encampment in Dallas is the latest to be moved by police. And students are trying to set up a tent city at the University of California, Berkeley, something the college administrators are not happy about.

Colleges seem like a natural place to protest, since the rising cost of college and high student debts are big issues for Occupy Wall Street. The protest on campuses across the country is set for this afternoon. As NPR's Beenish Ahmed reports, universities are conflicted, wanting to both promote free speech and maintain safety on campus.

BEENISH AHMED, BYLINE: It's the second time protesters at Berkeley have tried to put up tents at the University's iconic Sproul Plaza. Last week, their efforts were thwarted when campus police forcibly removed their encampment. Forty students were walked off in handcuffs. They were part of the thousands who had gathered in support of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Why are you hitting him?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: You're hurting him!

AHMED: The largely peaceful day-long protest ended with police jabbing students with night sticks. Bo-Peter Laanen is a Berkeley student and protester who says videos of police action serve as great P.R. for the movement.

BO-PETER LAANEN: Every time the police do something like this and they start beating down protesters, more attention by the media gets brought upon the situation.

AHMED: Much to the university's dismay. Dan Mogulof is a public affairs officer at Berkeley. He says the college informed students of its longstanding policy against encampments.

DAN MOGULOF: I think there's a great deal of sympathy and understanding for the broader aims and messages of the Occupy movement, but at the same time some of the methods that were advocated become very difficult in the context of a college campus.

AHMED: These difficulties are ones Seattle Community College knows all too well. Unlike Berkeley, the college doesn't have rules against camping on its property. SCC has only reluctantly become home to about 150 Occupiers - most of whom aren't students. Judy Kitzman, a college spokesperson, says sanitation and crime have become a concern.

JUDY KITZMAN: We have received complaints of sexual harassment going on and just a number of different issues. There's an increased rat population because of the trash situation.

AHMED: Encampments aren't a problem at every school. Duke University's Vice President for Student Affairs, Larry Moneta says there's been no reason to encroach on the Occupy Duke's handful of tents.

LARRY MONETA: It's an extraordinarily peaceful and responsible movement.

AHMED: At Harvard, administrators have closed off demonstrations by allowing only students to enter Harvard Yard, where about 30 tents are pitched. This has led some to say that Occupy Harvard is just as exclusive as the university. The group's slogan is we want a university for the 99 percent. This hasn't jived well with those who hope their elite education will earn them success. Dylan Matthews is a senior who helped start Occupy Harvard.

DYLAN MATTHEWS: There's a perception among people that if you're at Harvard you should be trying to be in the 1 percent and if that's not what you're aiming for, you're kind of doing it wrong.

AHMED: Until now, the Occupy movement at various colleges has been relatively isolated. Natalia Abrams hopes to change that through Occupy Colleges, a group that's helped organize today's planned demonstrations.

NATALIA ABRAMS: All over the U.S. we are asking students to walk out of their classes and strike against the rising tuition costs in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street.

AHMED: Abrams says thousands of students at hundreds of colleges are expected to abandon their classrooms at 3:00 Eastern time. The few colleges that are already occupied are eager for the solidarity.

Beenish Ahmed, NPR News.

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