Universities in Mexico are failing to keep their students safe

“We want us alive, free and fearless.” A poster inside a Mexican university calls for safety and equity for women. (Courtesy of Saraí López)

“We want us alive, free and fearless.” A poster inside a Mexican university calls for safety and equity for women. (Courtesy of Saraí López)

19-year-old Saraí López describes the threats many students experience on university campuses IN MEXICO.

It is well known that the streets of Mexico are filled with violence, corruption and insecurity. Unfortunately, our schools and universities are going along that line too.

Because corrupt principals and administrative workers steal or divert education funding, some Mexican schools are left without money for technology, infrastructure and even basic services, like running water or toilet paper. Instead of hiring qualified educators, politicians sell teacher positions in public and rural schools. They see schools as a political tool and educating students as an afterthought.

Institutions of higher education are not immune to these problems. On their way to class and on campus, Mexican university students are at risk of violence, robbery, sexual harassment, rape and even death.

I spent a few months studying at a public school before I left because it wasn't meeting my education aspirations. In that short time, I saw firsthand the dangers university students face. Just before I began my degree, students revealed widespread issues of sexual harassment and cover-ups on campus – many other private and public universities in my city then revealed similar situations. When I began my studies, a bus hit my classmate while she was on her way to school. Her unnecessary death occurred because the university didn’t have crossing signals on the road. That same day, a burglar shot and killed another student on her way to class. It was then that I came to the realization that although schools are second homes for many students, they are not places of safety.

One of the most prominent examples of the lack of personal safety for Mexican university students occurred in Guadalajara last year. Three film students — Javier Salomón Aceves Gastélum, Marco García Francisco Ávalos and Jesús Daniel Díaz — were shooting a short film just outside the city. Little did they know, two drug cartels were fighting nearby. One of the cartel leaders assumed the young men were undercover and abducted them. The leaders questioned Javier, Marco and Jesús, and although they insisted they were students, the gang refused to free them. The drug cartel beat and killed the students, and dissolved their bodies in acid.

 
This mural on a roundabout in Guadalajara depicts Javier, Marco and Jesús, the three film students that went missing. This place is now known as “Glorieta de las y los desaparecidos,” honoring all the missing people in Mexico. (Courtesy of Saraí López)

This mural on a roundabout in Guadalajara depicts Javier, Marco and Jesús, the three film students that went missing. This place is now known as “Glorieta de las y los desaparecidos,” honoring all the missing people in Mexico. (Courtesy of Saraí López)

 

And we will never forget what happened to the students of Ayotzinapa. In September 2012, 43 students went missing from a rural teacher’s college. According to official reports, the students were traveling to Mexico City from Tixtla, Guerrero to commemorate the 1968 Tlatelolco Massacre (a historic example of violence against students in Mexico). The local police intercepted the students’ buses and began firing weapons. The gunfire killed six students immediately and the police took 43 others. There are still many unanswered questions about this tragedy. Why did the police take them? Why did they fire? Are the students dead? Where are they? To this day, neither the parents of the victims nor the general public know the true version of the events.

This isn’t just an issue for public universities. Even at private universities, which are able to devote more funding to security, we have heard similar stories from students. In 2010, the Mexican military killed Jorge Antonio Mercado Alonso and Javier Francisco Arredondo Verdugo — two graduate students at one of the most prestigious private schools in Mexico — after mistaking them for narcos inside the university campus. After the students were killed, authorities manipulated the crime scene so that it looked like they were in fact criminals.

 
Students remember Ayotzinapa, when 43 students went missing from a rural teacher’s college. (Courtesy of Saraí López)

Students remember Ayotzinapa, when 43 students went missing from a rural teacher’s college. (Courtesy of Saraí López)

 

Universities in Mexico must stand up for the safety of their students. We see violence every day and think it is normal, but it is not. For starters, universities need to invest in basic protection and security guards. Roads need to have pedestrian lights and signals, as well as accessible, safe buses for students. Officials should not tolerate sexual harassment. Universities need better systems to address these accusations and support victims, as well as policies in place to fire those found guilty. Security is one of the basic rights we owe Mexican students, not because of the common “they are the future” speech, but because as humans, they deserve to study and learn safely. A student’s place is in the classroom, not on the front page of newspapers for a tragic or dangerous incident.

I wish I could share more about the challenges Mexican university students face and give voice to the stories that remain untold. I wish our universities were places of safety and learning. One thing is true, though: Mexican students will fight for quality education and for security, in and out of our schools.

This piece is available in Arabic, French and Spanish.


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about the author

Saraí López is a 19-year-old university student from Mexico. She studies international relations and loves photography, cinema, sunflowers and books.