Students Protest for Education in Chile

Even with such staggering numbers, all 59 University of California Education Abroad Program students studying in Santiago have remained in the program and are actively attending class at this time, according to UCEAP communications representative Emilia Doerr. Despite EAP administration’s warning to avoid protests as a safety precaution, some EAP students have even chosen to participate in alongside local students.

 

Recent protests interfered with Muir College senior Megan Young’s studies at the public university, la Universidad de Chile. Young was required to transfer to the private university Pontificia Universidad Católica — also located in capital city Santiago — for her second semester abroad. Young, one of six UCSD students in Chile, describes her experience as witnessing history in the making.

 

Although Young resides in an apartment in central Santiago where the protests are largely concentrated, she said she has never felt unsafe. “The protests have never affected me in a negative way, nor have I ever felt like my life was at risk because of the protests,” Young said. “I’ve gone to a few in June and one just this morning.”

 

Chilean students are protesting the privatization of education in the form of marches, hunger strikes and tomas, a Spanish term that refers to students occupying a university building so that the administration is unable to function as normal, Young said in an email. Tomas are different from sit-ins in that they can last for indeterminate periods of time, sometimes lasting for months until the protesters’ demands are met.

The protests — which originated in May — started peacefully. Early demonstrations involved approximately 100,000 students dressed in superhero costumes, a “kiss-in” and a “Thriller” reenactment. However, recent protests have furthered divisions between the police and the students. According to an Aug. 26 story published in the Guardian UK, police used tear gas and water cannons against protesters.

The same story reports that a 16-year-old boy was shot in the chest during the protests.

 

According to local media, witnesses said the police were responsible for the boy’s death.

 

   “I have participated in some of the protests and am in full support of the students,” Warren College senior Jordan Dalton said in an email. “Many Chilean political concepts have been exported from the United States and the concept of education is no different. Chilean students are extremely politically informed, especially about the United States.”

 

     Dalton — who also spent her first semester in Chile at la Universidad de Chile and is now at Pontificia Unviersidad Católica — sees the protests as a way for students to demand better funding for schools, debt reduction for former students and an increase in transparency in the government.

 

While Chilean students are organizing and mobilizing largely online with social media, Dalton said the campus remains an important location for debates and discussions.

 

“A paro [an unauthorized strike] doesn’t mean the students don’t go to school,” Dalton said. “In a well-run paro the students are at the university discussing ideas for furthering their cause or preparing for the next demonstration.”

 

Despite frequent UC tuition increases drawing criticisms of privatizing public education, student response has been largely underwhelming.

 

The UCSD campus didn’t organize for last year’s system-wide March 2 event, according to a March 3 Guardian article titled “Campus Fails to Mobilize for March 2 Day of Action.” UC students can learn something from Chilean students, Young said. 

 

Young attributes Chilean students’ political presence as a response to its political history and the country’s structure of education — the U.S. government supports 35.8 percent of higher education, while Chile’s government supports 14.4 percent.

 

“The government in Chile hasn’t been established for as long as the United States, so the younger generation who didn’t experience repression during Pinochet’s regime have a kind of fearless hope and opinion for their vision of the future that they want for their lives,” Young said.

 

According to Doerr, UCEAP says it is too early to say how the nation’s events are impacting applications or interest for next year.

 

Despite the circumstances, Young and Dalton both agree that witnessing the social movement is an important education in and out of itself.

 

“The student movement has the slogan ‘Educación Gratuita y de Calidad,’ which means ‘Education that is free and of quality,’” Young said. “Chile is at a crucial point of change, and if we hope to become conscious global citizens and take a role in shaping the kind of society we want as well, it would do a world of good to be informed about what’s going on and take a leaf out of the students’ book to defend what’s important on a bigger picture.”

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