Story first appeared in the Traverse City Record-Eagle.
Students rallying around issues of debt, job prospects.
Mo Tarafa stood before students at a small, outdoor concrete auditorium at Florida International University and called for volunteers to sit in the 10 chairs before her. Each chair, represented 10 percent of the wealth in the united States and 10 percent of the population.
The students, mostly in their 20s and wearing jeans and T-shirts on a balmy fall Thursday afternoon in Miami, took their places. Then Tarafa asked nine of the students to squeeze together into five of the chairs. This, she said, was the distribution of wealth in 1996.
Next she asked nine students to fit into three of the chairs. This, she said, is the distribution of wealth today.
She asked how they were filling and one student said "uncomfortable" as they sat piled up on one another.
The exercise was part of a teach-in that took place recently at FIU and dozens of other campuses across the country in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street. As the protests have grown to cities across the United States. they've also taken root at the nation's universities, where students have staged rallies and walk-outs from classes.
On Thursday, students were among the thousands who took part in protest across the country. At the University of California, Berkeley, where 40 people were arrested in a violent confrontation with police last week, officers removed 20 tents on Thursday.
At Harvard University, dozens of students have set up tents in the middle of campus.
The student's concerns:the rising costs of tuition, seemingly insurmountable student debt and weak job prospects- issues unique to them, but which student organizers see as directly connected to the larger issues being raised by the Occupy protests.
Natalia Abrams, a recent UCLA graduate who has been helping organize students through Occupy Colleges said she loved her education and things that is was valuable, however, she fells she is not using it on a daily basis. Occupy College is a loose coalition of universities across the country. Whether the protest mark a rejuvenation of student activism in the United States is yet to be seen but already some important distinctions are being made from their involvement in politics and society over the last few decades.
In the 1960s, students held sit-ins to protest racial segregation and marched against the Vietnam War. Since then, activism on campus has tended to focus on specific issues, like rape awareness, anti-sweatshop campaigns, and equality for gays and lesbians.
There has not for a long time been a single issue like the civil rights or the war in Vietnam that brings a whole generation together.
Students at more than 120 university have participated in protest so far. They range from students from Ivy League colleges, many who come from middle and upper-class families, to those who work and attend state or community college.
Debt from college loans and poor job prospects after graduation are two of the main points of contention for student protesters. The unemployment rate for students who graduated from college in 2010 was 9.1 percent, among the highest levels i recent history, according to the Project on Student Debt, a nonprofit research and policy organization dedicated to making college more affordable. Student graduated with an average of $25,250 debt, 5 percent higher than a year before.