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U of T occupied?

Students gear up to protest against university, organizers say
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Students have been informally mobilizing for a U of T version of the Occupy movement, which rallies against inequality, corporate greed and economic disparity.

“Occupied U of T” is still in the preliminary stages of planning but Paul Castrodale, one of the “facilitators” at the assembly on Thursday, said that the movement would carry a more specified focus.

“I think it was pretty clear that a lot of people [have] specific grievances against the university and believe that this is a forum where we can address those,” said Castrodale, who spent around three nights a week at the Occupy Toronto encampment at St. James Park that began in October.

“This is markedly different from St. James in that this is addressing one specific institution. This is about the University of Toronto and what its responsibilities are and what we’re going to get the university to do.”

Castrodale, a recent graduate with a double major in political science and history, said that the movement is still very much in its infancy. Students, faculty and staff are still being contacted and dialogue with the administration being prepared for when the group is ready.

Approximately 30 people were in attendance at the general assembly near Sidney Smith Hall and the Lash Miller Chemical Labs. Campus police were quick to turn up, to which some people yelled, “Shame, shame.” They eventually left.

According to Laurie Stephens, St. George’s Director of Media Relations and Stakeholder Communications, anybody seeking use of University property must secure the appropriate permissions.

“We note that the university does not permit overnight camping on campus,” she said in an email.

Asked what contingencies are planned if eviction notices are handed out, Castrodale said, “We’ll work it out, it’s a democratic process. We’re here until we get our demands.”

Ben Hirsch, another U of T alumnus who helped spread word of the meeting, said that the reason behind renaming “Occupy” in to “Occupied” was to remove the negative connotations that accompany the word, citing First Nations groups who have had land taken away from them.

“We actually know and take part in that intellectual conversation so we want to be mindful of it,” he said.

Hirsch, who is an international student from the United States and was at St. James Park from its inception, said that the media’s criticisms of the movement’s lack of focus and direction were misguided.

“It was pretty focused down there,” he said. “Disorganized and unfocused are different. Maybe we weren’t as organized as we could have been but we were certainly focused on making the world better and showing different systems of providing for each other.”

Hirsch said that he was particularly inspired by the “democratic, horizontal decision making process” and wants to bring it to Occupied U of T.

“I think we need a solid base of criticism, and constructive skepticism existing,” said Curtis McCord, another facilitator and a third-year political science and philosophy major.

A Facebook page titled “Occupied UofT” has been created and information will be posted to @OccupiedUofT under the hash tag #occut on Twitter.

The next general assembly is scheduled for Thursday December 8 at 5 p.m. at New College on Willcox Street.