Pittsburgh Freedom School moved off campus

By Olivia Garber

A canceled conference was rescheduled, and the future of Pitt’s Students for a… A canceled conference was rescheduled, and the future of Pitt’s Students for a Democratic Society hangs in limbo after an eventful week.

Although Pitt’s chapter of Students for a Democratic Society removed its sponsorship of the Pittsburgh Freedom School, national and Pitt members still met at the Thomas Merton Center for the conference over the weekend.

Jordan Romanus, manager of Pitt’s chapter of Students for a Democratic Society, said the conference was a scaled-down version of the original event, which was meant to teach people about civil disobedience.

The location changed after Romanus canceled the Pitt chapter’s room requests on Thursday. Students for a Democratic Society reserved rooms in David Lawrence Hall, the William Pitt Union and the Cathedral of Learning.

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Pitt’s student chapter will meet tomorrow to discuss the future of the organization. The group lost its adviser, professor Tony Novosel, last week. The group will also discuss how it will respond to the University’s pressure to cancel the conference, Romanus said. Pitt’s Director of Student Life Kenyon Bonner said he did not pressure anyone to cancel the event.

Planning for the Pittsburgh Freedom School, which served as the Northeast Regional Conference for Students for a Democratic Society, began one-and-a-half months ago, said Alex Lotorto, a 23-year-old member of the national SDS. When Romanus canceled the event a day before the conference was scheduled to begin, Lotorto said the Thomas Merton Center, Pittsburgh’s anti-war and social justice activist group, allowed Students for a Democratic Society to hold sessions at its headquarters in Garfield.

The three-day event had about 20 to 30 attendees.

Casey Capitolo, co-founder of the Pittsburgh Freedom School, said one of the school’s goals was to bring together people of different philosophies.

Capitolo also said that the school was an opportunity for attendees to find political enlightenment.

Some members believe past actions of Students for a Democratic Society might influence people’s current opinions of the group.

“A lot of it has to do with historical precedent. It just has certain connotations for people who aren’t aware of the real facts,” said Kathleen DiPrinzio, a Pitt freshman and member of Students for a Democratic Society.

The national Students for a Democratic Society became popular during the 1960s when it promoted civil rights and an end to the Vietnam War. In the 1970s, some students split from SDS and formed the Weather Underground, a group known for bombing the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol.

Romanus said that the Pitt Students for a Democratic Society is loosely affiliated with the national organization, and is against war and violence of any kind.

“The idea that a student organization at Pitt even has [a terrorist] mindset is insulting,” Romanus said.

Amber James, a junior at Roberts Wesleyan College in Rochester, N.Y., said that Students for a Democratic Society is not limited to one political ideology.

Participants in the Pittsburgh Freedom School discussed gender identities, anti-sweatshop campaigns, nonviolent direct action training and union organizing.

Students for a Democratic Society promotes a participatory democracy — a democracy in which everyone has a direct say in the organization.

Liam Swanson, a Pitt freshman and member of Students for a Democratic Society, said Romanus took it upon himself to cancel the room reservations.

Romanus said he talked to members Mehvish Ally, president of Pitt’s Students for a Democratic Society, and Jonathan LaTourelle.