The following was written by Elizabeth Henningsgard, a senior at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, just outside of Oakland, CA. She has been involved in Occupy Oakland and Occupy Cal.
UPDATE FROM ELIZABETH: Thanks to this story, several angry emails, and student complaints in the Provost’s office my professor sent me an email this morning allowing me to leave. I do not think she expected us to organize the way we did as quickly as we did, but if we have learned anything from our involvement with Occupy it is how to organize.
I go to St. Mary’s College of California where, as part of the curriculum, students take a course called January Term. This one month course allows students to “take courses outside of their majors and is designed to step outside of the constraints of academic disciplines and standard curricula”. This year for Jan Term I am taking a course called “Eyes On The Prize: Civil Rights and Social Change,” because, as an occupier, I wanted to know more about organizing and the leaders that made the Occupy Movement possible.
I realized it would be possible for me to attend Occupy the Dream and Occupy Congress in D.C. a few days before the class started. I hoped this trip would give me the opportunity to relate the Civil Rights Movement to the Occupy Movement, and to experience first hand what a national movement looks like. The first day we numbered off and unfortunately I was assigned a group that would present on the day I planned to miss.
I approached my professor ten days before the event and asked to attend and to change my presentation date. She told me she would think about it Friday, and by Monday told me that two days was just too much class to miss. I offered to do extra work, switch presentation day with another classmate, and to attend the class remotely. She told me she could not make an exception for me because it would be unfair to others in the class.
The next day I spoke to the director of Jan Term about the issue and she responded by saying two days was too much class to miss and she would support the decision my professor made on the issue.
So I tried one more time to appeal to my professor. I printed off articles about the Occupy the Dream in order to describe how the events in D.C. directly correspond to the course. She made it clear she was not willing to negotiate with a student and that my offers were in vain. No “special treatment” would come my way and if I were to leave she would “fail me in the course”.
Occupy SMC, our occupy group on campus, met and formed a letter to President Ronald Gallagher who said he would not get involved in how a professor conducts their classroom. He also said, “Lasallian means ensuring that students get the education they sign up for” even though on the website it clearly states, “Our approach to education is rooted in the life of Saint John Baptist de la Salle, and our commitment to social justice and serving the underserved is woven into the entire Saint Mary’s experience, both inside and outside the classroom”.
This leaves me with a dilemma; do I stay and miss out on a life changing experience or do I leave and receive the first F of my college career?