The doors of the Metropolitan Autonomous University of Mexico (UAM) are closed. On the Cuajimalpa campus, in western Mexico City, hundreds of posters and banners hang from its gates: “UAM-C on strike for covering rapists and stalkers.” “High! a rapist is in your unit.” “Protect the victim, not the aggressor.” “Don’t insist friend: it’s not no.” A group of students with their faces covered prevents entry. Since last week the five campuses have been closed and the students have been on strike. The resolution that the university authorities gave to the complaint of a student against her ex-partner for her rape was the trigger for the weariness of her classmates to end up in unemployment. The case evaluation commission declared itself incompetent to take any action against the student, even when he himself acknowledged having committed the attack “by accident.” “Like this case, there are dozens unresolved or forgotten,” the girls say through social networks.
The case is not a one-off event. This is the tip of an iceberg that shows years of neglect of the sexist violence that permeates universities and high schools across the country. From Nuevo Leon to Oaxaca, passing through San Luis Potosi, Zacatecas and Yucatan. In 2019, the students of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) took over 11 faculties demanding the same thing that their UAM colleagues are asking these days: the university must be a space free of violence where women are not in danger for going to the bathroom. , for walking to catch the bus or for going to a party with their classmates. In a country where gender violence permeates all corners of society, the university is no exception. While the students fight for safer spaces, their own right to education is violated. “We want to live without fear”, the students respond.
Harassment, harassment, sexual abuse, rape and femicides that were swept under the rug for years and that the movement MeToo encouraged to denounce publicly. “Violence against women is structural and affects not only students, but also teachers and workers”, points out the academic from the UNAM Interdisciplinary Research Center, Aimee Vega Montiel. When the problem was blown up, she pointed out university authorities -mostly unaware- who were forced to develop anti-harassment protocols at a forced march -UNAM created its own in 2016 and UAM in 2018-. They also created victim care units that have been deficient when it comes to dealing with the problem in all its dimensions.
The students insist that the complaint mechanisms do not work or work only halfway. They complain that they denounced and nothing happened. They re-victimized them, they did not believe them, they tried to convince them not to report and forced them to continue in class with their offenders.
The five campuses agreed in an assembly to share a series of demands together. Among them, completely eradicating gender violence and unifying the protocols against harassment, restructuring the collegiate bodies so that they have an expert in gender perspective and reforming the Gender Equality office. “We are demanding that the authorities assure us that we are going to be fine, that they protect us, support us, that they do not stop at false promises,” the students said in a statement.
The demands also include that the members of the Misdemeanors Commission take gender perspective courses, reform the student body regulations to correctly delimit misdemeanors and reprimands, establish sanctions for academic staff for committing sexual violence, create precautionary measures to that when a complaint of sexual violence is received, the victim is treated correctly and that the right to education of all those involved in the process is guaranteed. “We are improving the protocols of the five units,” says the general rector of the University, Jose Antonio de los Reyes Heredia, in an interview with this newspaper.
The rector acknowledges that according to the opinion issued by the Institution’s Advocacy Office and the Gender Unit on the case of rape in Cuajimalpa “perhaps not all the elements that should have been included to reach the opinion that made the previous time” and is committed to the creation of a single protocol for the entire institution. In 2022, the UAM responded to complaints against 35 workers and one worker for gender violence. Of this total, 26 cases were accepted for processing. They also followed up on the complaints against 28 students for the same reason that ended with eight expulsions. “Four of them were in the Cuajimalpa unit and four, in the Xochimilco Unit,” says De los Reyes Heredia. In nine more cases, suspensions of one to three quarters were decreed for the students, four reprimands were issued and in five cases, no elements were found to apply measures, according to the data provided by the General Rectory.
This lack of trust in administrative channels has unleashed the phenomenon of anonymous complaints on social networks and on clotheslines, as can be seen on the gates of the UAM Cuajimalpa. The university authorities declare that as long as there is no formal complaint they cannot do anything. “There are several cases that have been reported in a more friendly way and the files are lost, there is a bad organization”, says Ana. “The fact that there are these structures does not mean that the problem is over. Prevention, attention and sanction measures are necessary; sufficient budget and that the indicators be monitored so that the university is a space free of violence”, points out Aimee Vega Montiel, and adds: “It is not enough that the institutions give immediate contingent responses thinking that they will get rid of the problem ”. “Universities must move forward and prevent this type of phenomenon through instruction, training and everything we can to raise awareness among our students, teachers and administrative workers. It is a collective construction that I think in this case would be the invitation to the people who participate in these movements to generate these mechanisms and above all, to commit each and all to building this peace that we so long for”.
The students demand a public pronouncement from the authorities about their wrongdoing and that there be no reprisals for any of the people who are unemployed. The general rector has committed to this last point, however, the students point out that neither Lerma nor Iztapalapa have received a guarantee from their authorities that there will be no reprisals. In addition to that, they say that they have cut off their water, electricity and internet to force them to cede the facilities and that the rector of their unit, Veronica Medina Banuelos, described them as “a shock group.” “They are UAM students like us and right now we fear for their safety,” says Ana.
The people consulted for this report consider that although sexist violence in universities is a phenomenon that has existed “forever”, as Vega Montiel says, feminism has encouraged female students to organize and denounce inequality as had never happened before. . This is the case of UNAM High School 6, which is also being taken over by its students for the same reason as the UAM or the University of Zacatecas, which announced strikes in all their activities starting this Friday. In Oaxaca there were protests in the Technological, Industrial and Services High School, the College of Bachelors and in schools of the State University System and La Salle University; in high school 29 in Tixtla, Guerrero, the principal was denounced for the installation of surveillance cameras inside the women’s bathrooms and in San Luis Potosi, students and former students of CBTIS 131 accused 10 teachers of sexual harassment. All in the same week.