Channels for student social engagement needed

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Fourteen years had passed but the UST Students’ Code of Rights is still pending, and the students still have to look for means to channel effectively their grievances or express their stand on social issues in the proper forum.

Last Feb. 20, some Senior High School (SHS) students staged what they called a silent protest against the K to 12 program. The students marched from the 11th floor of the Buenaventura Garcia Paredes, OP Building and were blocked from the sixth floor by authorities. They were summoned to the principal’s office where their IDs and mobile phones were confiscated.

Last Feb. 23, students from UST and other universities joined walkout protests against extrajudicial killings and state attacks on press freedom. A text message circulated in the College of Fine Arts and Design (CFAD), ostensibly from the administration, warning students against walkouts and citing the UST student handbook’s code of conduct and discipline.

“Only duly recognized student organizations may: Organize and/or engage in any approved group activity. Students who organize and/or engage in any group activity must exercise diligence in its conduct,” the text message quoted the Code of Conduct of the UST Student Handbook as stating.

These are just some of the incidents where students tried to express their stand on national issues but the University rules hinder them fully engage themselves in socio-political concerns. 

Meanwhile, school officials have more time prohibiting students from joining rallies and protests but not on proactive dialogues and interaction among the students. They focus on reprimanding students rather than opening their offices for suggestions and consultations. And most important, school officials have had established policies but has not given enough attention to approve or revise the proposed students’ code.

The proposed Students’ Code, formerly Magna Carta of UST Students which started to be drafted in 2004, encloses a provision on the students’ right to freedom of expression.

Article 3 Section 3 of the proposed code states the freedom of students to assemble to express disagreement of school policies which are deemed “contrary to their welfare and interests.” Under the same provision, students must also be given the right to air their grievances without being penalized but still subjecting to existing University rules and regulations.

In a 2016 report by the Varsitarian, then Central Student Council (CSC) president Anna Mariz Mangalili said the approval of the UST administrative offices was taking time. Two years later, the students’ code remains a draft in the CSC website.

Given more than a decade for lobbying the students’ code is the fault of the CSC and local student councils for having lack of progress on the students’ code or the administration is not really in favor of its contents?

The University should adhere or at least hear the students’ sentiments by involving students with their plans for each Academic Year, because students are greatly affected by the shifts inside and outside the campus.

In other words, if the administration really cares and listens to its students, it should help facilitate the passage–or at least pose no obstacle to the passage and ratification–of the student rights’ code. The fact that the proposed code has not been passed and remains a draft after all these 14 years should indicate there’s something wrong with both the student leadership and the UST administration.

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