‘General Assembly’ occupies Mason

General Assembly participants look to another addressing the group, describing grievances. (Edward Kyle)

The Occupy movement, which has drawn national media attention since emerging in New York two months ago, arrived at George Mason on Nov. 9 when student organizers opened the first George Mason General Assembly. About two dozen people attended.

“We’re not termed ‘Occupy,’ but we’re in that general line,” said Adam Proctor, one of several student leaders who facilitated the General Assembly event.

The General Assembly, which took place on the South Plaza for several hours, allowed anyone to speak and had no set agenda. While there was no defined platform, several themes, such as the perceived need for greater diversity in the university’s leadership, emerged.

“Our BOV is really white and really male,” said a male speaker who identified himself only as “Steven.” “It doesn’t reflect the diversity we have on campus.”

This statement echoed the General Assembly’s earlier assertion, raised in the open invitation it distributed among the student body, that senior administration was 98 percent white and 64 percent male. 

“It’s ironic that Mason is such a diverse school but the people who run it aren’t,” said a speaker identified as “Julia.”

The General Assembly’s concern with diversity extended to its own proceedings.

“I don’t want to be another white guy up at the front of the room,” said Proctor, the student organizer, at one point. “Let’s get some more diversity. Let’s have some more diverse voices.”

A major issue outside of diversity was tuition, which most attendees agreed was too high.

“I haven’t been to a college meeting in over a year because I can’t stand to hear people talked about like they’re dollar signs,” said Mark Cooley, an assistant professor in the School of Art. “I actually received an e-mail about a year ago saying, ‘Do whatever you have to to keep students in your class, but do not let them drop before the deadline. Don’t let them drop while they can still get their money back.’”

The criticism of school policies notwithstanding, the university showed its support for the event in the form of Press Secretary Dan Walsch, who attended.

“The university totally supports this opportunity to speak out on issues that are important to the students,” Walsch said. “It’s important. This is part of what a university should be.”

Other students spoke to express support for sustainability and gender-neutral bathrooms (with one declaring that “the gender binary is dead”) among other things.

The proceedings, which at times seemed to lack direction, were the product of movement that claims to be both leaderless and unstructured, developing in an “organic” way outside of conventional electoral politics.

Charles Coats, a junior environmental sustainability studies major, identified with some of the speakers.

“Everyone should have free healthcare and free education,” he said. “Healthcare and education are key. Those determine the fate of a nation. It’s insane that people have to go into debt just to keep their heads above water. They have to ask themselves, ‘Do I pay the bills or do I eat?’ What kind of society is that building?”

Still, Coats had reservations about the General Assembly’s and the Occupy movement’s current structures.

“What concerns me with any group with no leader is that the message can be unclear,” said Coats. “It’s questionable how effective they will be.”


Editor's Note, 8 a.m. 10/14/2011: An earlier version of this piece said that the General Assembly's open invitation described the diversity of the BOV. It spoke of a document called the GMU Administration Organizational Chart, which included the BOV, but was not counted in the number their statistics were drawn from.  

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