When 43 college students went missing in Mexico, the American news media didn’t take much notice.
The story has picked up steam lately, with the gruesome details of recovered bodies, and just how far the Mexican drug cartels’ reach into the government goes.
To show support to the surviving students and their relatives, a pair of Penn State graduate students, Donna-Marie Cole-Malott and Ana Diaz, both in the department of curriculum and instruction, hosted a forum Wednesday in the HUB auditorium where they read a declaration of student voices condemning the crimes committed in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero.
“As members of the Pennsylvania State University community, we voice our solidarity with students from the Rural Normal Ayotzinapa and the relatives of the students killed or missing,” the declaration said.
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“We also voice dismay at these crimes committed in the state of Guerrero, Mexico, against the Normalistas from Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers College of Ayotzinapa.”
According to a chronology of events provided, student teachers from the school left Sept. 26 toward the city of Iguala.
After an encounter with police, 43 students were taken, never to be heard from again.
Mass graves found in October are thought to contain the bodies of some of the students, but the attorney general of Mexico confirmed none of the students was among the remains.
The Normalistas are student teachers, or students in teachers colleges, professors of geography and women’s studies Melissa Wright said. They have a long tradition of being a social force for change in the country and are active as marchers and protestors.
What the local press has been saying, associate professor of Spanish John Ochoa said, is the that corrupt local government, which doesn’t have much connection with the central government, was having a “student problem.”
“They heard they were going to have some student marchers come through town and raise a ruckus,” Ochoa said.
“The central government has its own enforcers. They would have come in, broken some heads and maybe one or two students disappear.
“They know how to keep it under wraps without the journalists knowing.”
Instead of calling the central government, he said, the local government called up its own enforcers from the cartel, saying the disappearance has “all the hallmarks of cartel enforcement.”
Penn State students in the College of Education frequently have critical discussions about current events, Cole-Malott said.
“When we caught wind of what was happening in Mexico, to a teachers college and student teachers,” she said, “we thought, ‘This is immediately related to us.’ ”
“What if we went missing?” Cole-Malott said. What if 43 of our graduate students went missing? Wouldn’t we want some kind of action for our students?
“This is the thing we feel in classes when we talk about political issues,” Diaz said.
“But it needs to go outside the classroom.”
Cole-Malott said future discussions are planned.