Your Response to Occupy Wharton
On Friday, October 21st, U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor cancelled his Leadership Lecture just a few hours before he was scheduled to speak. The ensuing debacle between Occupy Philadelphia protesters and alleged Wharton students, presumed now to be undergraduates, has been well documented in the media, but outside of comments left by Wharton students on blogs like ThinkProgress, at no point has a media outlet attempted to relay Wharton MBA views on the event. The Wharton Journal has stepped in to help the MBA community find its voice in this issue. Here’s what they said.
I believe our role as an educational institution is to foster and inspire intellectual growth, creative thought, and spirited dialogue whenever possible. While members of our community are encouraged to express their own views, it is unfortunate that dialogue was replaced with shouting. Let’s hope we can learn from this experience so that going forward, we find less divisive ways to communicate and hopefully move toward bridging the divide that many in the U.S. believe exists today.
Through Leadership Lectures and numerous other speaking venues, we espouse public discourse over matters that are of critical importance to our community members and all society. But, while spirited debate is illustrative of a true democracy, respect for opposing viewpoints reveals an individual’s capacity to learn and grow. We encourage our students to seek answers to the world’s most complicated situations and to share their knowledge for the betterment of all.
As Majority Leader, Rep. Cantor is literally the public face of a major U.S. political party—the party in control of the legislative process, no less. That he would cancel a long-anticipated address on class and income inequality in the face of an increasingly popular movement dealing with just those topics is shocking and disappointing; members of both parties stood tall and attended traditional town halls in the summer of 2009 despite the inevitable Tea Party inquisitions they faced. But far more disappointing were the tone-deaf “counter-demonstration” antics employed by a few Wharton students during the ensuing demonstration. “Get in our bracket,” the signs read, inadvertently buttressing the protestors’ claims that access to the democratic process has become the purview of the rich and well-educated. Thankfully, the worst offenders looked mostly to be undergraduates, so we can chalk it up to ignorance and inexperience. Surely, though, even such incurious twenty-year-olds are nonetheless smart enough to see the absurdity of a bunch of students yelling “get a job!” As students, it’s doubtful most of them have jobs. And their work-study brethren would much more likely have been standing with the protestors seeking, among other things, parity in educational opportunity than with a bunch of self-parodying ingrates sullying not only Wharton’s reputation but the business community’s as well.
Andrew Baill, W’13, brought up Occupy in a LGST 830 Social Impact & Responsibility class and Prof. Waheed Hussain led a good discussion on it. People don’t seem to complain when they benefit from the same business leaders who help them succeed. Tactically, Occupy could have clearer, more compelling goals. But bigger picture, it’s an overdue chance to think about the human impact of the market far beyond Wharton and Wall Street. Leaders across sectors can work together to transform social power (and anger) into stronger relationships that promote trust, education, and value in the longer-term. These are good formative experiences for Wharton’s global leaders to think about profit and people together. Plus building face-to-face relationships with Occupy over a beverage would be a good time.
I think it is unfortunate that the Occupy Philadelphia protesters managed to bring out the worst in us (a very small few of us) and in our elected politicians. Whether or not you agree with their stance (or whether you can identify their stance) on the issues, I think that attempting to belittle them (in the case of the Wharton students – undergrads?) or run from them (in the case of Rep. Cantor) is counterproductive in the extreme. It implies that you are not secure in your own views and don’t want to face their critique head-on and rationally. Wharton students have more in common with Occupy Philadelphia than we think – we are young people who are mostly unemployed and looking for work, many of us are interested in what happens on Wall Street, and we are not afraid to look a little bit silly now and again. I wish we could all try to focus on where we agree rather than on where we don’t.
At first I thought they were talking about a[n] NCAA tournament bracket. Then I realized it wasn’t March.
So to make sure I understand, the undergrads here are doing a “reverse” occupy by telling all the jealous people to step their income game up? If so, I agree in part.
You have all these anti-establishment, “mad at the man” hipsters running around leading this movement when in reality they are living off of plush trust funds funded by the establishment that they’re so mad at. Many of them need to go occupy the homes in which they grew up, nestled in the safe, upper middle class suburbs of America. Why don’t they occupy the Apple store, or are they too afraid of not having the newest stylish Mac to pose with at the local coffee shop? While the dispersion of wealth in America is no laughing matter, many of the people leading the charge are – especially the trustafarian hip-tards who are occupying cities like Oakland.
I’m not a fan of protests – go try and fix the problem rather than just complaining about it has always been my philosophy, so in that sense I don’t support the Occupy Wall Street/Philly protests or any of the counter protests. The fact that Occupy Philly came to Wharton, however, should empower the Wharton community – not to taut any credentials or potential earning power that we think we may have, but to tackle the problem head on. We’re creative thinkers and privileged to attend the finest MBA program in the world, and with that comes a responsibility to think about and implement free market and entrepreneurial solutions to problems of income inequality.
What strikes me about the demonstration is the glaring disconnect between the protestors and the students. The protestors assume that we are all here because rich parents bought our way through admissions, that we have never appreciated a hard day’s work, and that we are looking to take from the world all that we can, at any cost. These are convenient mental constructs that the protestors have created, without any real, true reference points. In reality, I don’t come across MBAs at Wharton who haven’t worked incredibly hard to get where they are. We all know this. Additionally, many of our peers have passionate ambitions to solve problems in this world and make extraordinary impact. Yes, financial reward may come at the end, but few people at Wharton are primarily and absorbedly motivated by that. Again, we all know this. Unfortunately, the protestors either do not know this or chose to ignore it.
On the other side, those students (who were undergrads) acted inappropriately, unintelligently and gave the protestors exactly what they wanted. I really wish they could have realized the eventual outcome of their actions and avoided the response that they gave. Those students may feel that the protestors do not appreciate their work ethic and ambitions, as I have described above. At the same time, those students most likely have no clue what it means to be unemployed, with no job prospects, with a family to feed, and moving out of a house because they can’t pay the mortgage. This type of life situation is devastating and is one that few of us can fully appreciate.
At the end of the day, the entire conflict is based on a mutual misunderstanding. Lesson learned: “Before you criticize a man, walk a mile in his shoes.” – Dale Carnegie