A University of Richmond professor spoke last Sunday at what he said was one of the most significant social movements in recent years, Occupy Wall Street’s (OWS), “Occupy Richmond.” This movement is a byproduct of the original OWS demonstrations and has rallied protesters in Kanawha Park in downtown Richmond since Oct. 15.
Thad Williamson, professor of leadership studies, spoke at the an educational forum “Calling All Humanitarians” for Occupy Richmond. According to its website, the movement is a collection of thousands of Richmonders with personal grievances, issues, and problems — which all derive from the mutual source of profound socioeconomic disparity.
“My aim was to try to articulate how the extreme inequality of the last 30 years have harmed both our economy and our political system,” Williamson said in an email. “It might have taken some Americans by surprise, but globally more people are asking not ‘why’ but, ‘why didn’t it happen sooner?’”
Senior Brittany Kneidinger, a finance major, encountered the Wall Street protests in its early stages during her summer internship at a bank. She said she was picketed by homeless people as she walked to work in the mornings.
“It’s really frustrating to me,” she said. “You know, it’s not like my parents were investment bankers. I went up there. I paid my own way, got on a Chinatown bus to drive up there.”
Kneidinger plans to work on Wall Street as an investment banker after graduation. She said she was spit on when she visited Wall Street over the fall break.
“I just think if they [OWS protesters] were educated about things, I’d have a lot more respect for it,” she said. “It’s becoming radical, it’s not helpful at all.”
However, Williamson suggested that OWS was a well-educated movement. “I would recommend to business and all students to read up on the views of the many well respected economists who think that the protestors are exactly right,” he said.
Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Krugman and Dean Baker comprise some of the corroborating economists, Williamson said, as well as publications such as Left Business Observer and Dollars & Sense magazine.
Williamson has worked at the Jepson School of Leadership since 2005. He wrote a book last year called “Sprawl, Just, and Citizenship: The Costs of the American Way of Life,” and has written several editorials in publications such as “The Nation” and “Style Weekly.”
At the forum, Williamson said: “That’s why we are here today. The economy is broken, and the political system is broken, for the same reason: the excessive influence of powerful corporations and wealthy, who are determined to turn this country into an oligarchy, a country in which no matter who is elected, the big bankers and the corporate interests remain in charge.”
Bloomberg, a financial and media company, sponsored its assessment test on campus for recruiting this month and plans to hold another assessment in November.
John Earl, professor of finance at the Robins School of Business, said a lot of finance students looking for jobs typically got offers after their internships. Goldman Sachs, Barclays, Citi and J.P. Morgan were among some of the New York firms that recruited students, he said.
As for the OWS movement, Earl said everyone was entitled to their opinion, but he said some of the demands of the group were not realistic. “They’re getting a lot of attention, but I don’t see that they’re going to bring any structural change,” he said.
Earl said he could understand graduates getting out of school with tens of thousands of dollars in student loans and then being unable to find jobs.
Earl said: “All these things like the Peace Corps and Teach for America, these things are all really good if your family has enough economic resources to provide a sort of safety net.
“But if you’re going in debt and you’re taking out a tremendous amount of student loans, I mean you have to be able to get a job when all is said and done to pay them back. So obviously the kids are saying, ‘well, where can I get a return on my investment?’ Obviously it’s not the Peace Corps, but it certainly is going to be in accounting or Wall Street. Those are the places where you get the good- paying jobs that allow you to pay off your student loans.”
Williamson said he would encourage business students to ask themselves why they were in the field, and whether they found intrinsic value in it.
“Personally, I think society would be better off if our business graduates were oriented toward finding ways to create jobs in the productive economy the old-fashioned way, by making things of value in a way that pays workers good wages,” he said.
Nancy Bagranoff, dean of the Robins School of Business, said there were a variety of interests among business students, and that some didn’t take jobs in the industry.
“I’ve met with alums from New York who came from all the different schools at Richmond, not just the business school and ended up working in business,” Bagranoff said. “So I think that’s one thing people don’t understand, business and Wall Street firms may hire non-business students also.”
Williamson ended his talk at Kanawaha Park on Sunday by issuing a challenge to build a movement that demanded both social justice and democracy, and to find creative ways to practice it.
Contact staff writer Keon Monroe at firstname.lastname@example.org