BYU students chronicle Chile’s student movement

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BYU students document the student movement in Santiago, Chile. From left to right, Ricardo Quintana, Shelbi Anderson, Jared Jakins and Jeff Wade. (Jeff Sheets)

Education reform is a hot topic in Chile. Students and concerned citizens have actively protested for education reform for three years and show no signs of relenting.

An interdisciplinary team of students and faculty from BYU’s College of Fine Arts and Communications, in conjunction with the Laycock Center for Creative Collaboration, experienced Chile’s strong protest culture firsthand. They created an online, mixed-media presentation that shows Chile’s education struggle. The presentation can be found here.

“I never thought BYU would do something about Chile, and I never thought that it would be about the student movement because it’s a controversial issue,” said Ricardo Quintana, a native of Santiago, Chile.

Quintana, a BYU film student, returned to Santiago with team members Shelbi Anderson, a public relations student who served her mission in Santiago; Jared Jakins, another film student; and Jeff Wade, a visual arts major. They recorded citizens’ opinions, filmed inside an occupied school and interviewed top-level government officials.

They arrived in Santiago without a firm plan in place, so Quintana set out to contact all his connections to set up interviews with anyone politically involved in the movement. They managed to interview Camila Vallejo, a member of the Chilean House of Deputies and the face of the student movement.

They were obliged to fulfill various responsibilities simultaneously with their small team of four.

Students from BYU’s Department of Fine Arts and Communications interview a high school student outside student-occupied Instituto Nacional. (Jeff Sheets)

“I was filming with my camera, getting the sound with the other guy, and at the same time I was thinking of a question (to ask) this very intellectual girl who’s very young and very attractive,” Quintana said.

The climax of the trip occurred at El Instituto Nacional, Santiago’s most prestigious high school. Students occupied it as a form of protest, voting day by day to continue occupying. Anderson and Jakins went to interview students outside the school but unexpectedly gained admittance inside.

“It was almost like Neverland; there’s all these boys there that were just sleeping around and skateboarding inside the school, which I’m sure they weren’t supposed to do, and walking around on rooftops,” Anderson said.

Anderson and Jakins filmed inside the room where the occupation’s representatives held the daily “toma o no toma” vote. The student representatives didn’t know who they were and grew uncomfortable with them filming, eventually kicking them out.

Days later, a fire ignited inside the school, and while the students denied responsibility, law enforcement forced them out. The students returned to occupy the school the very next day.

Two faculty members — Jeff Sheets, director of the Laycock Center, and Brent Barson, a professor of visual arts — assisted the BYU students along the way. Sheets and Barson worked behind the scenes, offloading much of the responsibility to the BYU students.

“We consciously made a decision not to try to go in,” Barson said. “We thought that they might not be as amenable to us coming in, you know, adults. Students look closer to the high school kids’ age.”

Sheets said the overarching goal of their project is to make people ask questions.

“What is the role of education in your life, and is it worth fighting for?” Sheets said. “We take it for granted all the time here in America, but there are people other places that are saying, ‘We need change, and we need better education.’”

Chilean journalism students conducted street interviews and asked Chilean citizens about their opinions on education. Read about it here.