Starbucks occupation at Bogazici University: an interview

by Emre Can Sarisayin

Students occupy the Starbucks opened in their university. On the 15th day of the growing occupation, we talked with Can Evren from Bogazici University in Istanbul about the reasons behind the occupation.

Can you briefly describe the process leading to this occupation?

Few weeks into the semester, students came to school only to see a brand new Starbucks at the campus. Neither the faculty, nor the students were informed beforehand. Then a campaign started to protest against the opening of this Starbucks which lasted for five weeks. During these five weeks, the rectorate didn’t come up with any proper answers as to how the decision was made. In the same five weeks students regularly cooked their own soup in order to protest against the campus canteen and cafeterias which didn’t meet the economic and nutritious standards adequate to student life.

So the occupation was an answer to the non-response of the rectorate?

Yes, indeed. The occupation started two weeks ago, initiating a process of student mobilization demanding the rectorate that students voices should be taken seriously by the administration. Students demand the immediate abolishment of the rental contract and within the same space, a student canteen should be opened with fair prices and nutritious food. Furthermore, students want this canteen to be a food cooperative organised by students in a non-profit fashion. The ongoing project is to establish a cooperation with local farmers and support their organised struggle against the global agrofood economy dominated by multinational corporations.

I guess your demands are not limited to this particular space occupied by Starbucks.

No, we have always emphasized that this occupation includes a more general opposition to the commercialization and gentrification of the university. As students of a public university, we are deeply frustrated to witness the transformation of our common space into a private playground of corporate bodies, CEO’s and so on. The Starbucks café represents a final and very symbolic step within this neoliberal restructuring of public education.

Similar processes have been experienced throughout Europe as well.

Yes, that’s true. What generally has been named the Bologna process has affected our university as well, in the light of EU integration policies in Turkey. Standardization of pedagogical structures, corporatization and gentrification can be regarded as the expression of the broader Bologna process.

You have been living in the occupation zone. Other than cooking, what are you occupied with?

Before anything else, the occupation zone is a place for political subjectification. There is an inherent aesthetic pleasure in transforming a private space into our common, public space. We have been using the space as a sort of student cultural centre, including film screenings, open lectures, discussions and poetry recitations. There have been regular assemblies to experiment with participatory democracy. Students from different political backgrounds have come together to share what is common to all. We see this process as a re-appropriation of what was expropriated, taken away from us, what was already ours.

Do you get any support? How did the media react to this occupation?

Part of the faculty and the major union for administrative personnel have declared their support for the occupation. The press has shown unexpected interest, yet we want to make our own voice heard through our blog and livestream, instead of being an object of the larger mainstream media.

Thank you for this interview Can. Do you have anything more to say?

We’ve been informed that our comrades in ODTU (Middle East Technical University) in Ankara are planning their own campaign, in solidarity. Fuck Starbucks, occupy there!