Open Letter to President Faust

Check out this well written letter to Harvard President Faust first published here in the Crimson.


As members of Occupy Harvard, we are writing in response to your letter to the members of the Harvard Community sent on Monday, Nov. 21.

Thank you for recognizing the important conversations our movement has generated, and of the centrality of free speech and debate for Harvard as an institution of higher education. We appreciate your concern for the safety of all members of the Harvard community, including the occupants of our encampment in Harvard Yard.

However, we are concerned with your characterization of our movement. As stated in a motion passed at our first general assembly on Nov. 9, we have been committed to being peaceful in all our actions. Exceptions to peaceful conduct from that night can be cited from both sides, but these isolated events do not speak to the broader principles and behaviors that drive either side. You make reference to incidents of sexual assault at other Occupy sites, which are abhorrent. However, we invite you to compare the number of such incidents with that of sexual assaults occurring, for example, on Harvard’s campus and in final clubs.

Given that we have made a public commitment to nonviolence, we request that you do the same. In light of brutal institutional acts carried out by police at the University of California Davis and Berkeley, the Harvard Undergraduate Council passed a resolution calling for “the continued support of the right of students to peaceful protest without violent response by the Harvard administration, the Harvard University Police Department, as well as student unions, university administrations and police departments across the US." We share that sentiment, and we ask that you make a public commitment that the University and its agents will refrain from the use of violence against Occupy Harvard.

As we share your concern with violence, so do we share your concern with free speech. A number of faculty have written to you asking that you open the gates of the Yard, and some are holding classes off-campus in protest against the gate closure. We agree with this sentiment, we think that speech cannot genuinely be free in a location heavily locked down by security, with public access largely eliminated.

Over the past weeks, we have received strong support from the Harvard community and have enjoyed productive conversations with many students at the encampment. At the same time, the closure of the Yard has divided the campus community, and created an atmosphere of anger and frustration that has stymied constructive debate within Harvard and strangled exchange with the world outside it. It has enabled, rather than prevented, individual acts of verbal and physical abuse directed at the encampment by certain inebriated students late at night. If Harvard genuinely cared about freedom of speech, the health and well being of its own campus, and its obligations to a community larger than the one that lies within its walls, it would open its gates

Let us now focus the discussion on one of the real issues at hand. Controlled by the world’s second-largest non-profit, Harvard’s $32 billion endowment is larger than the gross domestic products of more than half the countries in the world. Why are Harvard’s investments opaque to the Harvard community? How can we be confident that Harvard’s investments are socially responsible? We appreciate that you, as the President, play multiple roles within this university. You are both the leader of a community of scholars and an employee of the Harvard Corporation. When conflict arises between these two allegiances, whom do you serve?

We want to know, and we want Harvard to be held accountable. The scholars who contribute lifetimes of hard work and research, elevating Harvard’s prestige, winning grants and garnering huge donations, should have a say in how our contributions to Harvard are impacting the broader world. As far as we know now, there is a deep void of transparency and accountability with regard to the broader impact of Harvard’s investments. This is not only a problem of management, but also a problem of morality.

We invite you to a discussion of this and other issues that have led to the creation of the Occupy Harvard movement and maintain hopes that we will have substantive opportunities to engage with you on the pressing issues of integrity and fairness that are causing growing discontent on campus. Members of your administration have declined to attend any of the general assemblies to which they have been invited and have pulled out of two discussion events to which they had previously committed: the general assembly of Nov. 10 and the Dudley House discussion forum of Nov. 21. We are a horizontal and democratic movement and we invite you, again, to attend one of our general assemblies, which take place on Mondays and Thursdays at 6 p.m. in the Yard, right outside your office.

By the time this letter appears in print Harvard Yard will have been locked down for nearly three weeks. A movement rooted in the reclamation of public space and an enhanced engagement with fundamental ideals of democracy and equality has been met with repression and a retreat into exclusion, a breed of fear that is the most regrettable byproduct of privilege. We call upon you, and our University, to do better.

Jennifer Sheehy-Skeffington ’14 is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Psychology. Jack Hamilton ’12 is a Ph.D. candidate in the History of American Civilizations. Sandra Korn ’14 is a joint History of Science and Women and Gender Studies concentrator in Eliot House.
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Campus Updates, November 2011

It's been a great month for our movement!

Many schools have been taking part in national community investment campaign actions throughout November, including Bank Transfer Day, such as:

  • The University of Chicago, where students proposed community investment and transparency initiatives to the administration that were well-received(!), in addition to planning a teach-in. Check out one of their op-eds here.

  • Washington University in St. Louis, who did a beautiful “Break Up With Bank of America” demonstration and action. (“It’s not me, it’s you!”) . Molly at Wash U also wrote a great piece about the Occupy St Louis March and College Bank Transfer Day.

  • The University of San Francisco, who chalked, flyered campus, and got media attention;

  • Barnard College, where one of our interns, Amandine, tabled and gathered petition signatures for Barnard to move money, while raising awarenessa around credit unions and responsible investment;

  • The University of Pittsburgh, who made big face-cut-out banners of famous folks from Pittsburgh,

  • Hampton University, which had flyers, handouts, and a meeting with the administration about community investment;

  • American University, where there was a teach-in and a meeting with the administration, as well as this great op-ed.

  • Florida A&M University (FAMU) where students are planning a leadership workshop and a “Rethinking Black Money” educational event;

  • Fairfield University, where the students met with their administration;

  • UC San Diego, where students changed their bank accounts on Bank Transfer Day; and

  • Brown University, where students paid a visit to their local credit union.

REC had the pleasure of meeting new folks from Oberlin College, the University of Michigan, Kalamazoo College, Western Michigan University, and Northwestern University during a recent visit to the midwest! In addition, we got a chance to meet and speak with talented students and allies at the University of Chicago and Loyola University Chicago. Thanks to everyone for such an inspiring trip!

REC also took a trip to North Carolina this past month. We swung by Duke University, where on-campus sentiments are on conflict minerals and Occupy Duke, UNC Greensboro, where some stakeholders are considering community investment, and UNC Chapel Hill, where Martin moderated a panel of experts on the economics, politics, and morality behind their coal divestment campaign. We also met students from Guilford College at Occupy Greensboro and are working with them on getting their school to invest money in their community!

REC also visited The New School here in New York City for a teach-in on moving money, the University of Rochester in Rochester, NY, and Harvard University in Cambridge, MA.

Other active campaigns this semester include Middlebury College, who did this beautiful video asking “What’s Middlebury Investing In?”; Swarthmore College, where students sent an open letter to the investment office and Board of Managers about endowment transparency; Arizona State Univeristy, where students made a Freedom of Information Act request about the school’s investments to raise the issue of endowment transparency on campus; the University of Southern California; Wesleyan University, and more. Alums: email to find out more about what’s going on at your alma mater!
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Students open credit union accounts, call on Brown University to do the same

Check out this great action from last week at Brown University.

Brown students act in conjunction with students at campuses around the country to demand that their university bank in the community, and match their words with action

11/18/2011 – This Thursday, November 17th, a group of Brown students drove the the Central Falls branch of Navigant Credit Union to open accounts in response to the Responsible Endowment Coalition’s National Community Investment Week of Action.

Four students took part in an action that action organizer Daniel Stern ‘13 described as: “both about our personal values and where we bank as individuals, and a statement about how we think Brown University can do a better job keeping and investing its money in Rhode Island.”

Another participant, Jadrian Miles GS, noted that credit unions like Navigant are examples of community development financial institutions (CDFIs)that consistently and responsibly serve the banking and credit needs of their communities.

“This is about common sense and values, not charity,” added action organizer Ian Trupin ‘13, who noted that, “credit unions and other community financial institutions are perfectly safe and well-managed organizations that offer competitive interest rates to depositors.” Though he says that it is not public information, Trupin alleges that Brown University banks with notorious robo-signer Bank of America, whose ATMs are found in campus buildings and whose CEO, Brian Moynihan ’81, sits on Brown’s Board of Trustees.

“Community banks and credit unions like the one we visited today did not cause the financial crisis,” said action participant Stoni Tomson. “They didn’t get into the subprime loans that wrecked so many communities, invest in companies that hurt the environment, or drive up commodity prices by speculating. Unlike the big corporate banks, many are dedicated to the common good, which is why Brown University, which is also dedicated to the common good, should put its money in them,” she added.
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Why I Got Arrested on November 17th

One of the students that REC works closely with, Molly Gott, at Washington University in St. Louis, was arrested in St. Louis during the N17 day of action. Read about it here:

Around the time when the mainstream media began to cover Occupy Wall Street, one of my responsibilities at my internship included interviewing Marva, a 65 year-old African-American woman living on a fixed income in Ballwin, Missouri who had been fighting the foreclosure of her home for over two years. As we talked, a stack of paper several inches high sat on her kitchen table -- all of the paperwork she had received and filled out in a so-far unsuccessful attempt to stop the foreclosure of her home. At some point during our conversation, Marva referred to herself as a "99 percent-er." I was taken aback.

Sitting on bridge

Up until that moment, I hadn't truly believed that Occupy Wall Street was anything other than a movement created by "radical leftists," for "radical leftists." But hearing Marva self-identify with the 99% changed my mind.

Since first hearing about it last summer, I had been skeptical of Occupy Wall Street. But despite my skepticism, I continued reading about the happenings in Zucotti Park. Although I was wary of the "movement," Occupy Wall Street did resonate with me, simply because it was willing to say, "We have a problem."

In fact, it was willing to say, "We have a lot of problems. And we haven't figured them all out yet. The problems are big banks, capitalism, income inequality, unfair foreclosures, the repeal of Glass-Steagall, environmental degradation, unemployment, corporate greed, globalization, racism, a Congress controlled by corporate interests, and a lot of other very complicated things." It was willing to say, "We're angry, so let's be angry together and figure out what we can do about it."

Still, I was skeptical. There weren't any clear-cut demands! Too many people were wearing Guy Fawkes masks! The high number of young, white people participating did not accurately reflect the composition of the 99%!

But after speaking with Marva my skepticism began to fade. I realized that, as someone who claims to be committed to "social justice," it would be irresponsible and impossible for me not to participate in the Occupy movement to the best of my ability. For me, "participating to the best of my ability" meant engaging in civil disobedience at a rally at the Martin Luther King Jr. Bridge in St. Louis on Thursday, November 17 as part of Occupy Wall Street's national Day of Action.

When I asked myself, "why should I participate in civil disobedience?" part of my answer was: because I can. For most people, such as Marva, voluntary arrest is not possible because of financial, health, and other concerns. But as a white, upper-middle class college student with the social and financial resources to be arrested with almost no subsequent consequences, I can strategically use my privilege to call attention to the injustice that pervades our country.

It is integral that students across the country become even more involved in the Occupy movement. We can carry on the legacy of student activism in our country by working to build a more just future in which we will live. Civil disobedience is one way that we can contribute.

In his famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail," Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. writes, "We who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with." To me, that is what the Occupy movement is about. That is what Thursday's march was about. That is why I participated in civil disobedience: to force us all to see that something (even if we don't know exactly what it is) is wrong, and then to come together to figure out how we can begin to fix it.

I only spent 11 hours in jail, but many of the things I experienced and observed affirmed again and again why the Occupy movement is necessary, and why change can't wait. Injustice of all kinds was constantly on display. The other inmates (and even some of the police officers and other people who worked at the jail) expressed support of the Occupy movement's messages.

I hope that the actions across the country on Thursday made it clear that the Occupy movement is not ending anytime soon and inspired more people -- especially students -- to participate. Now, Occupy can start having serious and difficult conversations about how to transition from symbolic victories to real victories, from social change to political change, and from a problematic present to a more just future.'

You can watch a video of the arrests here.
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Peralta Community College Board Approves Moving Money Out Of Big Banks

Look at this awesome news from Peralta Community College in the East Bay. Colleges, it's time to join the movement.

From East Bay Citizen

Nov. 16, 2011 | Members of the Peralta Community College Board of Trustees charged with overseeing over 45,000 students in the East Bay voted Tuesday night to acquiesce to the growing power of the Occupy movement by beginning the process of pulling its assets from large banking institutions.

The resolution, first introduced by Trustee Abel Guillen, asks the community college chancellor to provide the board a list of recommendations for beginning the move to smaller community-based banks and credit unions no later than the end of January.

For the full article visit: East Bay Citizen
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How To Make Action On Your Campus For Dummies!

By Caitlin Dally, University of San Francisco, REC student organizer

Up to Bank Transfer Day I was working like a dog, organizing the student body at USF to move their money and consider the same for USF’s endowment and operating account.  I quickly realized that the students who I was working with needed an action to mobilize around, something which would unite them in this cause.  And thus began our mission impossible themed action which went from fairly unorganized and to a successful action in a matter of days.  I realized there were basically five steps to what made our action successful and can help empower others across the movement.

1.) Make a game plan

I know it sounds like a sporting practice or a campaign-planning meeting, but I kid you not, planning works.  While making the plan you have to consider who your audience is, what your message is, and what you and your cohort is capable of creating in the limited amount of time you may have.  Our group decided that we would be able to flier and write messages with chalk on the sidewalks of every entrance to USF.  We also had been working on maintaining a message around the Bank of America ATMs at USF.  It was important for us to show what students can do to change their banks, why they should change their banks, and to inspire those to look further into where their money goes individually and collectively.

2.) Create a Facebook event

Facebook is so great for organizers! I don’t really know what college would be like without Facebook; I don’t know what organizing would be like without Facebook.  We have all become incredibly reliant upon Facebook as a resource to communicate.

At the click of a button we are able to reach out to the masses.

3.) Decide upon time and place

Through your Facebook event ask the others, who possibly may be involved, what times work in following days.  We started a discussion of where and when we should meet and made sure we had all of each other’s cell numbers.  Our conclusion was to meet in front of St. Ignatius Church (pictured above) at 8pm and launch our stealthy action from there.

4.) Find funds

You probably want to figure this out earlier in the plan, but for our action, we needed money and fast, but it was for very basic costs, printing fliers, and buying tape for the fliers and chalk.  Together, we creatively used any/all recycling bottles we could find in the week prior to our action and were able to pay for the printing with recycled bottles.  With the chalk we each put in less than a dollar to cover the other costs, which I think helped show that everyone was invested – literally.


Finally it was 8pm last Thursday before Bank Transfer Day.  We all dressed in black and began posting any open space on campus.  Whether bathrooms, the wall around the construction site on USF, or in spaces where public positing in acceptable (although the posts need approval from the posting authorities) we wanted our message to be heard: move your money, break up with Bank of America and make a vote with your money.  Two students covered their faces with their scarves and plastered the ATMs on campus with our messages, overflowing the receipt dispenser with fliers.  People were chalking the sidewalks and entryways to campus although we were a little weary we would see them the next morning because of the rain that was looming towards us.

Inevitably there were still students on campus and faculty still on campus. This was a great benefit to us because they wanted to know more about the movement.  One of the members in our cohort met a student working in the sociology department who is holding a forum on the Occupy movement and wanted our involvement in the forum.

Taking action creates more action.  And it’s not that hard, even a dummy can do it!
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Open letter to the Swarthmore College Finance and Investment Office and Board of Managers

Check out this great open letter written by Swarthmore Mountain Justice to their administration.

By Swarthmore Mountain Justice

Given Swarthmore’s commitment to social responsibility, it is only natural that its students should take an interest in the college’s investments. We are writing to you to address this subject out of a love for this college and a deep respect for its stated values. Swarthmore’s commitment to social justice is one of its strongest assets. The opportunity to support these values and engage with them directly is a major reason why many students choose Swarthmore. The college challenges us to hold ourselves accountable to our actions, our contributions to our communities, and our contributions to the world. It is in this spirit that we write to you now.

Our investments are a substantial way that Swarthmore impacts the global community. Investing in a company is not only a financial endorsement, but also a symbolic approval of that company’s practices. Swarthmore is invested in numerous companies who have substantiated connections to human rights violations and unsustainable environmental practices. These include ExxonMobil, Monsanto, and Goldman Sachs, to name just a few.

Out of the college’s investments, students currently have access to a list of domestic equity holdings. We appreciate that this information has been made available to students, but it frankly raises many more questions than it answers. The list does not include the amount of money invested in any of these companies. Furthermore, domestic equities only represent 22% of Swarthmore’s endowment – meaning that over $800 million is still unaccounted for. In order for students and community members to engage in the project of making Swarthmore the best possible institution, full transparency for the whole endowment must be achieved.

This issue is of practical importance for the student group drafting this letter, Swarthmore Mountain Justice. We recently began raising awareness around the college’s investment in several fossil fuel companies. Since we began these efforts, other students have been asking us exactly much money is invested in these companies. The Sustainability Committee has also asked us to provide the dollar amounts invested in fossil fuels and other financial metrics as a precondition for examining the relationship between investment and sustainability. As we do not have access to this information, we are prevented from discussing these issues in a fully informed and responsible manner.

All this being said, it is clear that endowment transparency is a crucial step to bringing the college’s practices in line with its stated values. Mountain Justice therefore requests the following information that will both enable the thoughtful discussion that Swarthmore holds so dear, and aid student and community groups as they work to make Swarthmore a financially, ecologically and socially just institution.

We call on the Investment Committee and the Finance and Investment Office to make available:

  1. All domestic equity investments, and the dollar amounts invested in each.

  2. All international equity investments, and the dollar amounts invested in each.

  3. All private equity investments, and the dollar amounts invested in each.

  4. All real estate and natural resource investments, and the dollar amounts invested in each.

  5. All bonds and bank accounts, and the dollar amounts invested in each.

  6. The names of all mutual funds and hedge funds managing Swarthmore’s money, the amounts of money invested in each, and the investments of each respective fund.

All this information should be updated quarterly and made available to the college community and the public on the Internet and in print. We fully acknowledge that this is not a simple request, and one that will not yield a simple answer. If any of this information is not readily available due to contractual or legal obligations, the Finance and Investment Office should include in its response a detailed plan as to how the Office, working with the Board and its investment managers, will make this information available in the near future.

Finally, as this is an open letter, please respond publicly.

Swarthmore Mountain Justice
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A Trail of Dirty Money

by Swarthmore Mountain Justice

Hi all, Swarthmore Mountain Justice (MJ) here. We are a group that started out as allies to the anti-mountaintop removal coal mining movement, and saw Swarthmore’s endowment as a good way to bring that issue home to our campus in suburban Philadelphia. Since then, we have expanded our focus to include not only mountaintop removal, but also fracking, offshore drilling, and other exploitative methods of extracting fossil fuels. These various forms of extraction are similar in many ways: they all produce immense profits for a few corporate shareholders while devastating local communities, ecosystems, and the global climate. Another similarity also links these different practices—Swarthmore’s investments are funding these practices.

Community groups on the “frontlines” of fossil fuel extraction are fighting every day to stop the corporations that are literally killing their families. Swarthmore’s administration puts a lot of emphasis on being a “socially responsible” institution, so it is completely hypocritical for the college to actively invest in the destruction of frontline communities. We students are uncomfortable knowing that our educational experiences are being funded by these investments.

MJ isn’t sure yet how we want the college to address this glaring hypocrisy, though it is clear that something needs to be done. As we research and consider ways that Swarthmore can bring its practices in alliance with its admirable values, we are educating Swarthmore students and faculty about the college’s investments.

We kicked off this educational process about three weeks ago with a fun and creative tactic—proof that endowment activism doesn’t have to be boring! We mailed letters from the (entirely fake) “Committee on Investment Profitability” to the entire student body, along with some photoshopped “dirty investment dollars.” The following day, we published an op-ed explaining ourselves in the online student newspaper. The tactic engaged students in an unexpected way, and we got a great response, including an article in the other student newspaper.

Since we used this tactic, we have been hearing responses and questions from many different students and faculty members on campus. We are taking these comments into consideration to decide the next element of our strategy. Stay tuned! Please email us at with suggestions, questions, or if you are thinking about starting an extraction-related campaign on your campus!
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WashU in St. Louis Bank Transfer Action

Students at Washington University moved their money out of Bank of America and into St. Louis Community Credit Union and then took this picture of their action.

Students at other campuses around the country took action on Thursday and Friday as well. Events included teach-ins, credit union visits to campus, moving money to credit unions and other actions designed to showcase the problems with the banks and the value of investing and banking locally.
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Campus Updates, October 2011: REC's National Conference, College Bank Transfer Day, and more!

Students from across the attended REC’s 8th National Conference at Pace University in Lower Manhattan, New York City this past weekend. It was a blast talking to students from across the country, from Florida to Chicago to Washington State to San Diego! Students also formed a planning committee to discuss our two biggest events coming up in the next month: College Bank Transfer Day on November 5th, where students around the country will be organizing to move their money out of Wall Street and into community banks, and a National Week of Action November 13-19 to encourage universities to do the same!

Swarthmore College students found a letter in their mailboxes this month from the school’s (entirely fictional) “Investment Profitability Committee”, discussing their successes investing in major dirty energy giants. Now more and more people are asking: shouldn’t our money be put to better use? Check out the campus media coverage and Mountain Justice’s op-ed.

Students at Wesleyan University are taking on their university’s investment and banking policies. Check out this open letter they wrote to their Board of Trustees. We look forward to hearing more from them in the coming months as they demand their voices be heard and engage with their administration.

Seattle University students came back from REC’s National Conference invigorated and ready to revamp their committee on responsible investment. Read all about it in this awesome article!

One of REC’s student organizers at the University of San Francisco published an op-ed about how to use USF’s money to create real change and the opportunities that Occupy SF is providing their community. Check it out!

The Faculty Council at Boston University voted to endorse a proposal by students calling for a commmittee for socially responsible investing! The proposal now goes to the Board of Trustees. Congrats, BU!

At Yale University,  the student-managed Dwight Hall Socially Responsible Investment Fund has received additional money from the Dwight Hall trustees after a year of strong performance! It now has $20,000 in community banks in addition to the $45,000 in diversified publicly-traded investments. Additionally, the fund will pay its first distribution into the Dwight Hall operating budget this year. At the end of last year they had over 50 applications for 7 open spots on the funds management team.

Brown University was listed repeatedly as a REC ‘success story’ at our conference - for its social choice fund (see our student handbook’s case study) as well as for its more recent victories in the HEI campaign. Students are ready to take their work to the next level at Brown, from organizing regionally at other schools to get money out of HEI to exploring community investment options.

Drew University’s new Socially Responsible Investment Committee (SRIC), established by students with the support of REC two years ago. REC and Drew students are continuing to talk about how to move their school forward and bring the SRIC fully into the fold of being an effective and empowered part of the investment decision-making process.

Students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are digging deep into their schools’ investments to change the way universities invest in coal companies. Both groups will be meeting with their administrations in the next week.

Students at Hampton University are raising the isuse of their schools’ investments in major banks, and how and why the school can be more justly and sustainably investing in the underserved Hampton community. They’ll be participtaing in College Bank Transfer Day and our National Week of Action in November!

Students at Barnard College are currently focusing their efforts on College Bank Transfer Day (November 5th!), as they plan on hosting credit unions on campus to get 20 students open an account with them. More generally, their intent is to educate students about the impact they can create by moving their money out of the Big Banks that have increasingly been taking over the entire neighborhood. Other initiatives include creating a pool of resources for students to learn about community development.

REC will be visiting Duke University next week as part of our tour of North Carolina schools, and we’re excited to learn more about their desire to engage their school on a variety of investment issues, including its participation in investing in conflict minerals and the genocide in the Congo.

Students at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles at our National Conference! LMU student are coming out of the conference with a new set of tools and knowledge, are taking action on a variety of subjects including the potential of investing in their own community and getting other schools involved.

American University students are honing a three-pronged approach this year - looking at transparency of their endowment, working to set up a committee on investor responsibility, and moving forward with a community investment proposal.

Students at the University of Pittsburgh are hitting the ground running! In addition to being a major driving force on students’ National Community Investment Campaign Committee, they are planning a series of events for College Bank Transfer Day and the National Week of Action.

Washington University in St. Louis students are taking Occupy Wall Street and Occupy STL back to campus. They’re working on a series of “Occupy Lunches” to discuss the issues raised by Occupy Wall Street and Occupy STL, and how to create change at their school, starting with College Bank Transfer Day.

Students at Florida A&M Univeristy are planning a house party to discuss the problems of the big banks, the way in which the Tallahassee community has been hit, and how they can help to create a more just financial system. We were also excited to have our first FAMU student come to New York to join us for our conference!
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