What I Learned From My First "Paro"

This is an Opinion article and does not reflect the views of Her Campus UPRM as a whole. The opinions presented here belong to the author.

I arrived around 9AM to the main gates of Colegio and was surprised by the environment I found there. As a UPRM student, I’d always heard that no one showed up to the paro and most students voted in favor just to skip out on going to class. When I arrived, however, there were close to a hundred students and professors marching with signs around La Vita gate. At the Barcelona gate, the number of participants was about the same. The picketing, preceded by on-site conferences and workshops, lasted for about half an hour.

At 10:30am, there were a number of workshops scheduled for each gate of the campus. At the main gate, students and professors opened a space for discussion about the debt crisis that currently envelops the island. Discussions also ranged from civil disobedience, sustainable ecology and social justice, culture and the environmental battle, the crisis within the energy system, and the university’s role in the community.

I moved to the gates at Barcelona and sat in on a discussion about intersectional feminism given by sixth year student and candidate for graduation, Lenna Garay Rodriguez. There, Lenna discussed the meaning of feminism, patriarchy, gender roles, equality, and the way society’s social constructs act as oppressors for both men and women. Both students and professors opened up about their personal experiences in a discussion directed in response to the entering government’s decision to remove the bylaw on gender perspective in public schools. The participants expressed the need of promoting a more open and educated society and the importance of pressuring the government to reinstate the bylaw on gender perspective in public education.

Later, I caught up with Lenna to ask her a few questions about her involvement in this student movement and to discuss the importance of public education in Puerto Rico’s communities. Lenna is currently in her last semester as a student in Colegio and finishing a bachelor's degree in Hispanic Studies with a minor in Women and Gender Studies, while also completing a certification for teaching in secondary schools. When asked if she’d ever participated in a movement like this before, Lenna told me that in previous years she’d been present in paros and other activities but she had never taken the role of spokesperson and leader.

For Lenna, the opportunity to be a spokesperson for this movement was spontaneous. She participated in the student assembly by writing a resolution about gender perspective and came into touch with other students who represented the movement leading her to the center of the action. Lenna pointed out that the amount of female participation in this week’s activities is an important sign of social change and progress.

“The students who organized the events were able to do so in a very short amount of time, working collaboratively with Colegio’s student council, to coordinate workshops, and achieve a large participation of students at the campus’ gates” said Lenna.

There was definitely something different about this year’s manifestations in comparison to other years. Lenna pointed out that “one of the positive results of the past week’s events is that collaborative efforts were achieved between different sectors in the university. They have all worked together to find alternative solutions to the current situation.”

The environment at the gates was certainly one of learning and open discussion. Lenna expressed that the participation in the workshops was excellent. “One of the consequences of our 24-hour paro is that now we have a student body that is more educated and oriented in terms of why we are fighting. The principal purpose of the 24-hour strike is to congregate the students and create this space of learning outside of academic worries and to discuss possible resolutions to the fiscal plan that proposes a 300 million dollar cut to our institutions’ budget.”

In Lenna’s opinion, the 24-hour strike was very successful. “We received participation from more students than anticipated.”

“One of the things I love about these manifestations is that they are very horizontal. Meaning that these are spaces for organized discussion where there are really no leaders. I don't consider myself a leader of this movement but, rather, a spokesperson to discussions about the important topics that we are facing,” said Lenna. The main purpose of the strike, to her, is to educate all of the students.

“My experience as a student has been life-changing. In my university years, I discovered my passion in life and learned the meaning of social justice and perseverance. It has been a transforming experience and I think that many other students would say the same. I think this is why we fight for public education, so that others may have the same opportunity.”

As for me, participating in the strike was an enlightening experience. It was very humbling to see all of my peers taking a stand and sacrificing their day in commitment to their education. Being a university student has been an amazing opportunity for me and it has served, not only as an outlet for my professional development, but also as a place of self-discovery. I am definitely not the same person now as I was three years ago when I walked out of high school and marched into the unknown. Education is empowering, it is the principal ingredient in the recipe for a better tomorrow. Our stand at the gates of Colegio was a clear representation of our understanding of the importance of education for current and future colegiales and UPR students.

“No marcho para no coger clases, marcho porque mis clases me abrieron los ojos y mi gobierno los quiere cerrar.”