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How Harvard Students Can Learn from Student Protesters Abroad

By Owen A. Berger
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

For many Harvard students today, the idea of student protests probably sparks images of The Game and divestment. But for Harvard students who may have hoped to take part in the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies’ January program, the massive student-led protests in Chile have had a far more concrete impact this semester. The program, which has run since 2003, sends Harvard students to work alongside students at Universidad Mayor in rural communities outside the capital. But as Chilean President Sebastian Pinera declared a state of emergency and sent the military into the streets, this year’s iteration of the program was canceled due to safety concerns.

We stand in solidarity with our Chilean peers who are putting their lives on the line to create a more just future for themselves and their community. We stand to learn from their efforts.

Of course, we believe student safety, whether on campus or around the world, should always be of utmost concern. And as the injury count in Chile climbs above 2,000, alongside more than 20 deaths, we understand the reasons for canceling the program. The nature of the protests in Chile, however, compel us to reflect on the ways in which activism and protest is sparking important discussions around the world.

To some extent, we regret the necessity of canceling the program. Study abroad programs are immensely important, in so far as they broaden our horizons and share different perspectives with us. For Harvard students, the unrest stirred up by our peers in Chile is of deep educational value. And we’d like to believe that this educational value is at its greatest when individuals on the ground are speaking out about the state of the society they inhabit. We encourage Harvard and other universities to weigh this pedagogic angle alongside safety as they plan and consider future travel programs.

At the same time, however, we recognize that often in moments of social conflict and change, our educational programs cannot and should not be made the priority of local institutions and people. Universidad Mayor ultimately made the choice to cancel the program this year. Canceling the program is not merely important in terms of Harvard student safety, but in terms of respecting the intensity of life right now for the institutions and individuals that would be expected to host Harvard students.

Even from the distance of Cambridge, however, students should remain informed about and engaged with the Chilean student protests and the broader sweep of youth-led protests around the world. Chile, where high school students kicked off unrest in the wake of subway fare increases by organizing mass evasion, is not unique. Take climate change: last Friday, activists assembled around the world to contest the damaging effects of Black-Friday-style consumerism and demand action from the United Nations climate negotiations, which began Tuesday.

Harvard students should remain informed not only for their own educational benefit, but also because many of our peers come from or have deep personal ties to regions of the world where protest and unrest are the only serious avenue for challenging regimes of inequality and violence. What may seem far away for some is, for many of our peers, very close to home.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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