Student Movement in Colombia

On my last day in Bogotá my friends and I visited the Nacional – the National University of Colombia. As a college professor I was eager to see how the university was organized and I had spent enough time at the UNAM in Mexico City to know that the campus was going to be lively, colorful, and interesting.

Students and professors in Colombia have been busy organizing against reforms to Law 30. From what I understand, under the guise of making education more accessible and affordable for the government, the proposed reforms would entail changes to make education funding follow a more U.S.- like path in which students would go into debt to finance their university studies. I had seen graffiti around Bogotá opposing the reforms and was interested to see how this and other issues were represented at the Nacional.

After taking the obligatory picture in Plaza Che, we wandered through some of the buildings on campus. I was impressed with the ownership that students displayed over the facilities – walls were painted with elaborate murals and political art. The work was well-done and it didn’t seem like an infringement on the integrity of the space, but rather a way of students sincerely interacting with their education, in a way I often wish my students would do more forcefully. At one point we briefly found ourselves in a small march but we left the walkway for a lunch break.

After about an hour at the university we took a taxi back to downtown Bogotá and got off on La Septima – a busy and main thoroughfare that ends in the town’s Plaza Bolivar. We wandered through some shops and then caught a large student march – perhaps the one that had originated at the Nacional. We sat down for a snack and watched the march go by – it seemed endless, people were literally walking past us for hours. We ended up following the march route to Plaza Bolivar where a huge stage was set up and a band already performing. The plaza was filled with young people, most holding up black umbrellas to stay dry from the near-omnipresent Bogotá rain.


I walked around a bit to get a sense of the crowd. I felt energized by the music and the large group of people. I thought a bit about this energy in comparison to the marches and protests with which I had been involved in the States. The energy that I felt that afternoon in Bogotá was one of unity – not in the sense of everyone agreeing of even having things in common, but in the sense of being a part of something larger than themselves. The students in Bogotá were protesting because they recognized that an approach to education that recognized education as a right was under attack – they had not instituted this approach to education but they were in danger of not inheriting it. What united the protestors in the plaza were not similar career goals, or fields of study, or even political affiliations, what united them was the understanding of a particular position that they occupied within Colombian society – as students and teachers – and the recognition that this position was being summarily attacked. That sense of being a part of a larger structure – not in an alienating, nameless way but in a way that places you in solidarity and strength with thousands of other individuals – is what I felt reverberating through my body like the music coming from the stage.

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