A group of some 15 students, most wearing hoods, have won headlines by seizing the administration tower at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
The rebel students have been holed at Latin America’s largest university since last weekend, and images of the takeover (like the AP photo of the student above) are on the front pages of newspapers.
While the incident focuses on matters particular to Mexico, it brings together facets of university life across Latin America, especially the notion of autonomy of campuses – meaning that the police and the army must stop at the gates. Students generally play a role in Latin universities, including in academic affairs, that might seem incomprehensible on a U.S. campus, partly because student leaders are often affiliated to political forces off campus. University battles can seem like societal battles. A third element is the tolerance for violence on the part of students that might seem alien to an outsider.
So the takeover at the UNAM, as the university is called, drags on as the university rector decides whether to invite in federal police to dislodge the protesters. Police say they are ready.
The case at the UNAM, though, is not about major social issues. The hooded students are protesting the expulsion of five students from a different campus following a melee early in February.
According to news reports from Mexico City (I’m in Acapulco following a different story), some 115,000 students, teachers and staff members have signed petitions calling for the removal of the hooded students.
Some 200 student supporters have encircled the administration tower, an iconic building which houses gigantic murals by Mexican painter David Alfaro Siqueiros.
Much of Mexico City awaits to see what will happen next.