Studying Community Organization, Wurzweiler Class Examines Occupy Wall Street Firsthand

Two weeks ago, a class from Yeshiva University’s Wurzweiler School of Social Work traveled to Lower Manhattan to observe the organizational structure and leadership dynamics of the Occupy Wall Street movement in Zuccotti Park.

Dr. Saul Andron

Dr. Saul Andron's class is studying the organizational structure of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Instructed by Associate Professor Dr. Saul Andron, the Hausman Chair in Communal Social Work, the community social work course of second year students jumped at the opportunity to witness firsthand the organization of the protests on the ground and get a sense of its strategies and tactics and successes to date, as well as the challenges facing this social movement going forward.

From art and history courses visiting museums to scientific collaboration with other research institutions, the outing served as one of the many examples of a Yeshiva University class maximizing its setting in New York by using the city as a real-time learning laboratory to complement class instruction and course material.

Occupy Wall Street“We are learning about social work from the macro practice perspective, specifically dealing with communities, neighborhoods and organizations,” said Dr. Andron at a recent class debriefing on their Lower Manhattan excursion. “We together felt that it was too good of an opportunity to pass up. We needed to check out Occupy Wall Street.”

The intricacies of the protesters’ organizational structures proved especially intriguing to the aspiring social workers. They spent their debriefing class dissecting all of the moving parts of the ongoing protests and applied concepts of community organization to better understand the developments on the ground. One student expressed amazement at the sanitation and food distribution operations. Another pondered over how the protestors managed their funds. Finally, the class emphasized and marveled at how the movement brought together disparate groups of people around a common cause.

One student, Melanie Goldberg, greatly appreciated her experience at the protests. “It was great to see so many of the concepts we are learning in class actually employed in the world,” she said. “We are learning about mobilizing locals and how to teach people to use their voice. To see that first-hand offered a great real world scenario to what we are learning in class.”

Occupy Wall Street organizers set up a makeshift library at Zuccotti Park.

Organizers set up a makeshift library at Zuccotti Park.

Her classmate, Alice Blass, pointed out the connection between what she learned from the atmosphere of the protest and the discipline of social work. “One thing we always discuss is that it is important for people to find their voice and be able to express themselves in a way that will yield positive results. This is what we saw in Zuccotti Park.”

The tour of the protests was just one of many experiential and hands-on classes conducted by Dr. Andron and other Wurzeiler faculty. In the past, he has brought students to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina to help rebuild homes in communities destroyed by the devastation and to the annual General Assembly of The Jewish Federations of North America to expose his students to innovative Jewish communal structures and program models.

With his passion for experiential learning and the enthusiasm of his students for further studying the Occupy Wall Street protests, Dr. Andron hopes to return to Lower Manhattan with his class to examine the development of this movement unfolding in Yeshiva University’s backyard.