Katy Fox-Hodess, Department of Sociology University of California at Berkeley
Francisco Nuñez Capriles, Department of History, Universidad de Santiago de Chile
Last month, following winter break, Chilean high school and university students across the country have once again occupied their schools, the latest upsurge in a powerful student movement that began in May of 2011. Though the student movement appears once again to be gathering strength, the government has shifted from its traditionally permissive stance on school occupations to a strong-arm position of dislodging students with police force soon after schools are initially occupied and, in some cases, having the police occupy schools for up to a week to prevent further student action. This shift has placed the student protesters in a more tenuous position than the position they found themselves in last year and the situation is in a state of flux.
It is clear, however, that the movement is not yet over, and Chilean students remain highly critical of the marketized educational system inherited from the dictatorship. Despite a seven-month long militant mass mobilization of students and their supporters in 2011, the protests have yet to result in significant substantive changes to Chile’s educational policies. The failure of the government to meet the students’ demands has resulted in a growing critique of the flaws of the democratic system negotiated at the end of the Pinochet dictatorship. In this sense, the current movement can be seen as a second wave of pro-democracy protests, calling attention to the problems of marketization and the need to reduce Chile’s high levels of inequality and make government more responsive to the public.
Affirmative action programs in higher education have been around for decades in the US, and have spread around the globe. In some parts of the world, universities have additionally implemented quota systems in an attempt to diversify the student body. But these programs become particularly difficult to implement in countries like Brazil where racial definitions are far more complex. Although it is true that darker colored Brazilians tend to be underrepresented in universities, it is also the case that the definitions of ‘black’ versus ‘white’ have never been standardized, making quota systems a challenging venture. More significantly, what might its impact be outside of the university? According to Professor Peter Fry from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, asking college applicants to declare their race as black of white will make “race a legal concept for the first time in republican Brazil.”
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Read a New York Times op-ed featuring a discussion between eight experts on the same issue, here.