Student activists respond to prevalent Hong Kong protests

A banner in support of the Hong Kong student protest was defaced with the words (translated to English from the original Chinese): “Oh, haha.” Hong Kongese Colby students and other activists have come together and created many campus-wide events in an act of solidarity, but their efforts have been met by multiple negative responses, leading to a bias incident report that demanded administrative intervention.
Sujie Zhu ’15, a Chinese student, joined forces with Hong Kong students in support of the protests. “I’ve never been to Hong Kong, but when I saw a video of the protests, I had the initiative to share it with other Colby students.” The abroad protests are focused around Hong Kong citizens demanding that China have less of a role in major government decision. “The movement is for universal suffrage, for citizens to have control over their own government. It was organized by law students and professors, so it shows what students are capable of,” she said.
Zhu wants to bring this activist spirit to Colby’s campus. “We need to be aware that outside Colby, there is this power from students who aren’t afraid to stand up to the administrators. People don’t want to challenge things here, but it’s proof that other students are taking these steps, so we shouldn’t be afraid to join them.” Zhu and her friends—including Milton Guillen ’15 and Marina Arcuschin ’16— have taken the lead in creating campus events which both raise awareness and function as a call to arms for students to participate in supporting the protest.
“We started something called art-ivism,” Zhu said. “We set up a flash mob in Pulver [Pavillion] and for 30 minutes, we laid on the floor to impersonate the dead bodies from these protests. It was crazy to see how many people just walked by and didn’t even ask why there were dead bodies on the floor…. Our generation has a problem with realizing that some things are bigger that us.”
The activists also brought the yellow ribbon trend to campus. “The ribbons were initiated by the students in Hong Kong, and they are a symbol of solidarity. They’re like the pink breast cancer ribbons, but they chose yellow as a sign of peace.” Zhu and her friends distributed the yellow ribbons in the student union, and a multitude of students still wear them on their backpacks and coats as a reminder of the campus’s support of the Hong Kong students.
Though there have been overwhelming efforts to bring the campus together over the protests, many students have rebelled against Zhu and her cohorts.
The defacement of the banner was the first public effort for opposing students to show their dissent toward the College’s support of the Hong Kong protests, but other incidents have occurred behind the scenes as well. Through a Chinese social media network called “WeChat,” Zhu has found many anti-Hong Kong posts from her fellow students. “They said that the protests were ‘stupid c*nt protests’ and told all of the Chinese students to not wear yellow or black,” she said. These comments prompted the Chinese community at Colby to come together and take a group picture holding up their national flag in what Zhu read as another act of opposition.
Associate Dean of Students Doctor Tashia Bradley decided to intervene on behalf of the College’s Bias Incidence Prevention and Report program. “She emailed both groups of students, the people from Hong Kong, and the Chinese students posting against us, asking to meet with everyone. An event didn’t happen because none of the Chinese students responded,” Zhu said. “It’s really created a barrier on campus between two groups of students.”
Despite the polarizing political background of the events, Zhu and her friends maintain their ultimate goal of spreading the word around the campus. “It’s so important to educate people and have events like a Teach-In and tabling to explain what is happening. People don’t know what’s going on, or how bad it has been.”
On Oct. 7, Dean of Religious and Spiritual Life Kurt Nelson facilitated the Pugh Center-sponsored Teach-In: a forum for sharing thoughts, questions and perspectives on the events in Hong Kong. The discussion featured panelists such as Associate Professor of Government Walter Hatch and Assistant Professor of East Asian Studies Elizabeth LaCouture. “We have the joy in a community such as this to simultaneously push toward fact and multiple interpretations,” Nelson said in his opening remarks.
President of Colby College’s Amnesty International Club Aquib Yacoob ’15 has also made many efforts to raise awareness of the events. “It really comes down to a human rights issue,” Yacoob said. “It’s about the right to protest, and the right to assemble without fearing police brutality.” News coverage of the Hong Kong events have reported on the violence occurring from the backlash against the peaceful protests. According to the Huffington Post on Sept. 28: “The normally calm streets of Hong Kong resembled a war zone.”
“The brutality is similar to events occurring in America,” Yacoob added. “In Ferguson, protestors are facing the same kinds of violence. They’ve actually been connecting with people in Hong Kong to give advice about how to deal with tear gas and tips for avoiding brutality.”
Zhu added that the activist groups in both protests communicate via an app that Ferguson and Hong Kong protestors invented called “Fire Chat.” “The app uses Bluetooth instead of WiFi, so the messages can travel from phone to phone without being censored by the Chinese government,” Zhu said.
As the protests grow, the Colby community continues to discuss and debate international suffrage and governmental autonomy. Though the events have sparked a lot of uproar, what’s more important is the fact that students are aware of current events and interested in global issues.