Northwestern students urged to be cautious with Yellow Vest protests in Paris

Yellow vests protest against rising oil prices and living costs. Some students studying abroad stayed home this weekend after Northwestern administrators urged caution.

Source: Reid McLaughlin

Yellow vests protest against rising oil prices and living costs. Some students studying abroad stayed home this weekend after Northwestern administrators urged caution.

Catherine Kim , Reporter

PARIS –– Northwestern students in Paris have faced an unforeseen challenge the past few weeks: learning to navigate the city amidst the Yellow Vest protests.

This Saturday marked the fourth weekend of the anti-government protests, which began as a response to the French government’s decision to raise fuel prices and has since broadened to protest the working class’ poor living conditions, burdened by the government’s tax reforms. The movement gets its name from the protesters’ fluorescent yellow vests, which French motorists are required to keep in their car.

The demonstrations garnered greater international attention after the Dec. 1 protests became unexpectedly violent with 200 protesters and 200 policemen injured. Though the protests on Saturday were calmer, about 100 were still injured and more than 1,000 people were arrested nationwide.

Weinberg junior Emily Lin unexpectedly found herself in the middle of the Dec. 1 protests while walking near central Paris, unaware that a large group of protesters had moved down to the area from the Champs-Elysées. She said she was at “the wrong place at the wrong time” when a smoke bomb was released about 100 feet away from her while she was crossing a street in an attempt to leave the area.

“It was definitely scary especially because I was clearly not a part of the protest, and if anything were to have happened to me, it would have been kind of hard with the language barrier,” she said. “I don’t know if I’d been able to get myself through (that) situation.”

Although she managed to get away from the scene safely, Lin said she took the precautions to stay at home for last Saturday’s protests.

In response to the riots, Northwestern staff have been in close contact with students, said Sylvie Canape, the student affairs and cultural coordinator for Northwestern’s Paris programs. Although the violence of the Dec. 1 weekend’s riots came as a surprise, Canape said the staff was better prepared this weekend. Staff sent out emails to students detailing specific protest locations and safety measures. The most important advice is to stay at home, she said.

Medill junior Justin Curto said he followed Canape’s advice and remained indoors to avoid the social tension and any violence. With a 30-page final essay looming over his head, he said he thought working would be a better use of time.

“I heard there were going to be some protests, and I was thinking, ‘Okay I’ve been in Chicago when there’ve been marches and you walk and you shout,’” he said. “But then I was seeing on the news and hearing people talk about violence and … people getting hurt.”

The protests, however, did not come as a surprise to all students. Weinberg junior Brigitte Xu said her prior knowledge of France’s revolutionary history had mentally prepared her for such a situation.

“France in general is known to be a country with a lot of protests,” she said. “People didn’t seem that violent or anything, unlike the way the news portrayed it.”

Lin said she is also trying to reassure concerned friends and family by telling them that the situation is contained to Saturdays and specific locations such as Champs-Elysées. She added that she does not normally feel unsafe during the week.

Yet Canape said taking extra precautions are still necessary until there is definite evidence that the protests will come to an end.

“The protest might continue through the coming weeks if there is not a strong message from the president and the government,” she said. “The situation is still unpredictable, and I think everybody has to stay vigilant.”

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