MEXICO: Student Contingents Demand an End to Sexual Harassment

Photo: Masked students turn Mexican flag upside down and burn it as other students cheer at the National Autonomous University of Mexico

By Nélida Tello

Earlier this month, a student march against sexual harassment at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in Mexico City was followed by a separate militant action by 100 masked students that set fire to an administration office. The protesters demanded President Enrique Luis Nito Graue’s resignation due to his administration’s role in covering up sexual harassment allegations against multiple professors.

Students from the Faculty of Higher Studies in Cuautitlán (FESC) Campus One, situated in the wider metropolitan area of Mexico City, traveled to the main UNAM campus to carry out the march. The event began at Bombilla Park, two metro stops away from UNAM, and ended outside an administrator’s office. The students who participated in the march emphasized their own nonviolent approach, holding posters that read “peaceful march,” “sexual harassment out of UNAM,” and “together against sexual harassment.”

March at the rector’s office in UNAM with signs that read “Peaceful March” and “Together against sexual harassment”

As the students marched they chanted, “Mamá necesito estudiar. Pero el maestro no me deja de acosar [Mom I need to study, but my teacher won’t stop harassing me].” Upon arriving at the rector’s office, students submitted a petition to the UNAM administration and listed their grievances, demanding the resignation of four professors at FESC Campus One.

Minutes after this demonstration ended, over 100 students wearing masks, acted in explicit opposition to the formally organized march as a method of getting the UNAM administration to change their response to sexual harassment. Twenty masked students took down the Mexican flag from the flagpole in the rector’s courtyard and set it on fire in front of the rector’s office. The masked students were armed with rods and sticks, which they used to break the building’s windows.

The students also threw molotov cocktails at the building, setting it on fire, while others tagged the building. One graffiti read, “neither voting nor praying is to struggle,” highlighting that revolutionary violence against class enemies is justified and necessary to end the oppression of women.

Graffiti on rector’s office reads “neither voting nor praying is to struggle”
“Federico A. TKD Abuser of Minors” painted on the rector’s courtyard

A group of masked female students painted “Federico A. TKD Abuser of Minors” on the rector’s courtyard. There are five formal investigations of sexual abuse and harassment against taekwondo professor Federico Arceo Garcia. While he has since been removed as the trainer for the Association of Taekwondo at UNAM, he still teaches at the Faculty of Higher Studies Iztacala and is remains on staff at UNAM.

UNAM security forces were able to disperse the protestors from the office, but afterwards a group of the masked students looted the university’s bookstore, Henrique Gonzalez Casanova. The students broke the bookstore’s windows, tagged it, and threw its books onto the ground outside.

Aftermath of Bookstore Henrique Gonzalez Casanova looted by masked students.

A graduate from the Faculty of Political Science at UNAM shared with Incendiary that “the politically peaceful demonstrations don’t create any change in society or in institutions,” emphasizing that permitted marches are inherently robbed of any revolutionary character. He further added that “[violence] is the first response against the repression of the State and armed forces” and “to generate a change there has to be a much larger organization than [a disorganized group rebelling].”

UNAM’s response has been to denounce the violence used by students against the university’s administration. Soon after the vandalization of the campus office, UNAM administration was quick to work with the Attorney General of Mexico City to incriminate students for the action. UNAM has prioritized legal action against students over firing their professors guilty of sexual harassment, demonstrating how the UNAM administration prioritizes their financial assets over student well-being.

In the last year, there have been 436 cases of sexual harassment filed against 385 individuals at UNAM, of which a large majority were filed by female students. In the case of the FESC Campus One there have been at least 77 sexual harassment cases under investigation since 2015.

Over the past month, eleven colleges and high schools have gone on strike due to school leadership’s failure to penalize students, staff, and faculty guilty of sexual harassment. The strikes have been done in a nonviolent manner up until now, and have held ongoing “dialogues” between students, petit bourgeois feminist collectives, and the school administration.

Since the protests, some colleges have resumed classes after coming to an agreement with administrators. The dialogue between liberal groups and the administration encourages students to continue seeking justice at the hands of the bourgeoisie, who have little intention of protecting students or firing professors as long as they can weather the bad publicity.

The actions taken by masked, militant students, on the other hand, show the correct orientation towards the ruling class university, which is less able to ignore flames and destruction than typical nonviolent protests and marches. With greater strategic centralization, the disorganized rebellion can be better converted into a militant campaign, one that is organized with the ultimate goal of seizing power and overthrowing the old order.