Sunday, 5 December 2010

Today while I was reading The Star Online, I came across the articles on student activists. One particular article, 'student activists place safety on the line', chronicled Malaysian university students' struggle for their causes. Of course, those were in the past before the University and University Colleges Act came into the equation and universities became a much different environment.

That article was really insightful. I had always thought that student protests had only existed in Western countries like America, Britain (like the recent violent protests), Australia, France, and so on. I did not expect to learn that Malaysian students had their fair share of protests, too. And I had always wondered why governments, especially our own country's, want to restrict students. I mean, why would we want to protest? The typical youth of today is highly uninterested in the political developments of the world, and so would be unlikely to want to exercise their democratic rights.

But through reading that article, it hit me: government officials today used to be students themselves! Suddenly, it all made sense- they know just how much power an institution that gathers peers like a university holds, and what they can be capable of. It makes sense that they do not want to be overthrown now that they're the ones in control. They know that in a place where young people meet, mischief is bound to arise. Students used to protest about anything and everything, and perhaps that's what worries governments; as well as the fact that student protests have been successful in achieving some sort of social change before.

Then there's another article in which Professor Khoo Kay Kim brushed off these actions as not significant.

“Having observed student activists over slightly more than half a century, I notice that many of them do not pursue a cause sincerely. Ardent socialists very soon became capitalists after leaving the university,” says Prof Khoo, who has been with UM since the 1960s.

“I remember that when Tunku Abdul Rahman was the Chancellor at Universiti Malaya, many of the students were encouraged to attack him verbally. He took it lightly, saying that students tended to make a lot of noise when they were studying but soon after graduation, they would change. He was right!

The recent protests in the UK

That also got me thinking, because he has a point that makes sense. Along with everything else, university represents the transition into adulthood. It is where students enjoy the last moments of their youth, push boundaries and behave irresponsibly as they search for their own identities. It's probably why Hollywood movies about college are filled with things like pranks, hazing and rebelling- it's all part of the 'college experience', as the Americans call it (remember the '15 things to do while you're still in college' list featured in a Gossip Girl episode?). Or maybe I've just been fooled by the persuasiveness of Hollywood.

But perhaps there is reason to worry. Just look at the recent protests in the UK. While the violence was regretted, I felt a tinge of smugness that the amount of power held by students and the damage we can cause. It felt... empowering. Imagine if Malaysian students were to organise a protest. Students from different universities, united for a cause, with the government none the wiser. Of course, it would be preferable if no one got injured.

Have a read at both articles, they're pretty insightful!
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