French riots disrupt study abroad

When Jennie Row ’07 arrived for a meeting of her feminist studies class at the Universite de Paris VIII several weeks ago, she was disheartened to discover that the room’s chairs had been removed by police to help form a barricade against rioting students.

Row is one of about 20 Yalies spending the semester in France whose studies and daily lives have been disrupted to varying degrees because of strikes by French college students. The students — who are protesting a new national law that would make it easier for employers to hire and fire workers aged 26 or younger — have been staging massive demonstrations in the streets of Paris and of other French cities for three weeks.

The riots have forced many schools around Paris to temporarily cancel classes. Row, who is also studying literature at the Ecole Normale Superieure, said she has attended a makeup class at a professor’s apartment, but it has been a month since some of her other classes have met.

“At first, having no class was great,” said Row, a former copy staffer for the News. “I went to museums, even took a weekend trip to Switzerland, but now I’m starting to get antsy. I’m paying for classes and for an education that I’m not getting.”

Yale Associate Director of International Education and Fellowship Programs Karyn Jones said that classes in France offered through programs explicitly for U.S. students have continued to meet despite the riots. Professors who teach courses at universities affected by the strike have been working with the programs in which Yalies are enrolled to schedule make-up classes at the programs’ offices, she said, and have sometimes sent lecture notes and assignments to the students through the programs. Jones said in an e-mail that Yalies will most likely not have trouble receiving credit for their studies as a result of the riots.

“Given that the French faculty members have been largely cooperative in working with the programs to ensure that the visiting U.S. students are able to complete their courses, the programs thus far do not expect that they will have to close,” Jones said. “If the situation worsens to the extent that the French programs need to close their doors — this is highly unlikely — then IEFP and the [Junior Year Abroad] Committee will work with the Yale College Dean’s Office to find the best solution for our study abroad students.”

Emily Gruen ’07, who is enrolled in French literature courses at Paris X Nanterre, said the demonstrations have made attending classes difficult, as protesters often attempt to block doors with piles of garbage and wooden debris. She said she and an American friend once had to argue at the school’s front doors with a French student who tried to bar them from entering.

“When we got in, we discovered that we, along with a few other American kids from our program and a few professors, were the only people in the building,” Gruen said in an e-mail. “Our professor was there and he gave class to me and my friend as if it were a normal lecture, even though ordinarily there are about 30 kids in the class. He told us that you have to fight for your education.”

Of her three classes at Nanterre, Gruen said none have met for more than four of the seven scheduled weeks so far. She said it is unclear how the cancellation of classes will affect assignments that are due for her classes.

“Normally, I’m supposed to have two papers due next week, but I don’t know whether they still expect these papers when we haven’t had classes,” Gruen said. “No one has informed us. I don’t think they even know.”

In addition to disrupting academic schedules, students said the riots have made most aspects of daily life more difficult. Erica Deahl ’07 said in an e-mail that the ubiquitous street blockades and frequent demonstrations — as well as several of her friends’ being targeted with tear gas by police — have kept her immediately aware of the ongoing conflict.

“While the riots everyone heard about last summer, burning cars etc., occurred outside of the city, and Parisians witnessed very little violence, now the same violent events are taking place — right in the middle of the city, and executed by our peers,” Deahl said.

Gruen said she was unable to use an ATM near the Sorbonne, where she is taking a history of music class, because the machine had been destroyed by rioters, and she said a nearby hair salon has been boarded up since rioters looted it.

Transport workers who joined the strike on Tuesday stalled the transportation system in major French cities and caused the cancellation of a third of all flights at airports nationwide.

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