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Editorial: Shaping the world through student voices

In the last month, two major student protests have emerged on opposite sides of the globe, yet they have differed in both press coverage and international support. The pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, now known as the Umbrella Revolution, has been covered by all major media outlets and publicly endorsed by the White House. Meanwhile, simultaneous protests following reforms to public universities and the disappearance and suspected killing of 43 students by state police in Mexico have gone largely unnoticed by the international community.

From the May Fourth Movement that empowered the Chinese revolution to the 1968 protests in France that sparked similar movements throughout the world to the protests that led to the Iranian Revolution to the non-violent student-led protests in Eastern Europe that weakened authoritarian leaders, student activism has played a unique role in shaping public opinion and defining global change. In denouncing structural oppression at the educational, domestic or international level, student movements have the distinct ability to ignite similar protests throughout the world. Yet their success — particularly in a highly globalized era — is contingent on international pressure that largely depends on mainstream media.

Entering the third week of clashes between police and protesters in the streets of Hong Kong, dialogue between movement leaders and state officials has been nonexistent. Meanwhile, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, “The United States supports universal suffrage in Hong Kong in accordance with the Basic Law, and we support the aspirations of the Hong Kong people.” Whether the Umbrella Revolution succeeds in forcing major restructuring of local government and sidelining Beijing involvement has yet to be seen. But the West-backed and internationally recognized movement is redefining the rhetoric regarding democracy in Hong Kong as well as in China.

The protests led by students of the Instituto Politecnico Nacional and the Normalistas de Ayotzinapa denounce police brutality. They also oppose a reform that will establish a technical education as opposed to a scientific one and limit the students’ rights to free expression and peaceful assembly. But why have movements that condemn state oppression, the absence of rule of law and the manipulation of educational institutions favoring the loss of civil liberties not gained similar Western and international support?

The magnitude of these student mobilizations in Mexico has been sufficient to paralyze Mexico City and force top officials to respond. But unlike the situation in Hong Kong, the student movement in Mexico places direct pressure on a U.S.-backed government (and confronts an educational reform that, as student protesters claim, will benefit multinational corporate interests). Given the ties between the United States and Mexico, the reluctance of the U.S. government to publicly support a movement against the Mexican government is typical. The lack of press coverage by major U.S. news sources, however, raises a critical question about whose voices are heard and amplified within our society.

Paulo Freire, a prominent philosopher and pedagogue, coined the term “conscientization” and stated that students bear the responsibility of creating critical consciousness. “The process of conscientization involves identifying contradictions in experience through dialogue and becoming part of the process of changing the world,” explained Arlene Goldbard, writing on Freire. It is thus our responsibility as Brown students to overcome the imbalance of coverage, to spark dialogue and to build the critical consciousness around social issues that supports the movements in both Hong Kong and Mexico.


Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: Natasha Bluth ’15, Alexander Kaplan ’15, Manuel Monti-Nussbaum ’15, Katherine Pollock ’16, James Rattner ’15 and Himani Sood ’15. Send comments to


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