This week, faculty at Chiang Mai University seized the artwork of several students for their political nature setting off a national firestorm about the nature of art and the rights of students to express themselves.
The students had created artwork that pointed to the disappearance of dissidents presumably by the state. (Read more here) A senior teacher/artist came to defense of the students and fought back against the faculty, sparking debate on campuses throughout the country.
While in the past year, the battle for democracy and liberty has been fought on the streets – the state has done its utmost to stop the protests in its track. From arresting dozens of student leaders for a variety of crimes, to planting spies in the protests, to violent crackdowns, to not granting bail to arrested dissidents, the government has exhausted all the tools at its disposal to end the protests.
But the case in Chiang Mai points to another avenue for the protests to continue. It is going back to the root of the movement, if you will, because the movement began on campuses throughout the nation. University grounds should still be a safe space for expression and students must continue to fight for that right, especially when heavy handed members of the faculty want to take away that right because they are too scared to confront reality or the authority.
The closure of university grounds due to Covid-19 last year caused the protest to spillover onto the streets and closed of an avenue for expression. Now, with students returning to campuses after the pandemic, it remains to be seen whether the protests will spill back into the university.
Already we have leaders of the movement applying to high posts within the student governments, ready to pressure age-old institutions to make changes to not only their curriculum but the culture within the university.
Let us remember that before the historic October 14 protests that brought down the dictatorship in 1973, campuses nationwide pushed reform, organized themselves, and met with farmers and laborers to air out their grievances.
The fight inside campuses, while not as popular as the street protests currently, is another avenue to continue the movement and a safe space for students to make their voices heard. If they can grow there unity within the universities, there will be plenty of room and plenty of voices to push for change elsewhere.