The Malta Independent 17 June 2024, Monday
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Low local student activism is a result of climate of unaccountability – MKSA President

Kyle Patrick Camilleri Sunday, 12 May 2024, 07:30 Last update: about 2 months ago

Younger generations, particularly students, are often criticised for their lack of activism on matters of national importance. In a rare show of involvement, last Tuesday, University students held a protest in solidarity with the judiciary after regular attacks against them by Prime Minister Robert Abela and other Labour exponents. The Malta Independent on Sunday speaks to Tasha Schembri, president of the Media and Knowledge Sciences Association to find out more

The President of the Media & Knowledge Sciences Association (MKSA), Tasha Schembri, believes that local student activism is at a current low as a result of a bigger issue. Schembri told The Malta Independent on Sunday that the country’s situation and the nature of its political climate – one that, she said, is lacking political accountability and features strong political apathy – is the influential reason behind low student engagement and activism nowadays.

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Schembri said that due to the state of country and “because people at the top are not held accountable for their actions, youth have been brought up in a country where we don’t really believe in change as a population because we feel like people aren’t held accountable.”

“If justice isn’t served, then how can we be the ones to drive change?” she added.

The Communications student noted that political apathy has become “a common thing” amongst her generation and other University contemporaries. She said that this goes back to the fact that “things are not handled well here,” irrespective of whichever political party one may be in favour of.

“Everyone knows that we are in a bit of a dire situation, that justice is not prevailing for everyone, that not everyone is held accountable, and that these things keep on happening time and time again,” she said, “The lack of planning is very evident and the lack of accountability is also very evident here.”

The student remarked how the state of the Maltese islands and its political climate is affecting young people in the country. “I feel like a lot of people feel a little bit hopeless in this country,” she said.

Schembri continued describing this sentiment, stating, “‘C’est la vie’, there’s not much we can do about it unfortunately, and to a certain extent I do agree.”

“There isn't too much we can do about it in this situation, but if this apathy does continue, we're going to end up in an even worse situation,” Schembri said. She also called it “a vicious cycle” of people continuing to lose hope with each new instance. Moreover, she elaborated that this sentiment in young people is paired with the attitude that they can do very little to make a difference if nothing actually changes.

In this regard, she questioned, “why should youths care?”, if they observe little change around them in the face of frustrations yet remain stuck with the same two major political parties as the only realistic options. The President of MKSA personally disagreed with this popular reasoning, saying that she believes that “change can be made, even though it’s not easy.”

As such, it was a breath of fresh air to see students organising a protest in Valletta last Tuesday. The students protested against the attacks coming from Prime Minister Robert Abela and other Labour exponents against the judiciary, adding their voice critics of the way Abela and Co are hitting out against judges and magistrates who are doing their duty. It was a sign that students, deep down, care.

Referencing student engagement with student organisations at the University of Malta, Schembri said she has been told that student activism used to be livelier just a few years ago, before she first entered the campus, but “nowadays, maybe we don’t see that as much” and “maybe it isn’t on the same level.”

“We are constantly reminded of how it was in the past and that right now we can never reach that level, I feel.”

This comment was recently echoes by the Parliamentary Secretary for Youth, Research and Innovation, Keith Azzopardi Tanti in an interview with this newsroom. On 28 April 2024, Azzopardi Tanti discussed low activism amongst the country’s youths and said that the country’s voluntary sector “took a hit” since emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic. The Parliamentary Secretary had used band clubs as an example of local groups struggling to integrate youths into their activities and internal structures, and followed this up by stating that such is happening “all across the board.”

While Azzopardi Tanti said that “it’s like we’ve become lazy” in this aspect, Schembri is of the opinion that since the pandemic, “many people got accustomed to that simulative life which many of us hated.” She also added that this general lifestyle change affected the turnout of several events, in her experience.

Last Tuesday, students protested in Valletta in support of the judiciary, who have been regularly attacked by Prime Minister Robert Abela and other Labour exponents

 

As an organiser on behalf of MKSA, Schembri explained how this outlook towards these extra-curricular activities and events. She described how organising different sorts of events “feels like a constant mind game” that, for organisers such as student organisations, quickly turns into pondering about how they can “convince” people that their event is truly worth their time.

“It’s not easy to convince students that, in a country/situation like this, we can actually make a difference,” she said.

The second-year student described student organisations to be multi-faceted and that they have a voice that they need to use, even though students “are very afraid of sharing our opinions and being vocal politically,” she said. Schembri also told this newsroom that she feels that students do care about being more involved but “they need that extra push.”

“If we don’t use it now, I feel like in a couple years, the whole notion of student organisations is going to be super different and much more dead than they are today,” Schembri said.

Referencing this student culture, which was initially stated by KSU’s President at the time, Jeremy Mifsud Bonnici, Schembri agreed that students nowadays are scared of expressing their opinion or taking a particular political stance out of a fear of being judged and/or labelled. Schembri pinned this issue to the widespread bipartisan political culture that exists across the Maltese islands, noting that “it does infiltrate almost all levels in this country.”

Going into the internal decisions of student organisations present at the University of Malta, Schembri stated that the common apolitical stance that these organisations stand by is evidence of this, since she said, it stops them from being aligned with either major political party, thus avoiding them from being labelled or even shunned as a result. She continued that there exists a fear that if an organisation was not perceived to be apolitical, then many students will not even bother to see what they are doing.

She also agreed with Mifsud Bonnici that there exists a fear in this regard for a student to hinder their future vis-à-vis job opportunities should they express themselves.

The communications student said that this fear even extends to social media; despite social media being one of the most accessible ways for a person to express their opinion on anything, she said that most youths would never share their political views online.

Schembri said that certain opinionated expressions could affect how people view them, i.e., whether they are really neutral or if they have a hidden political agenda, “but the reality is that everyone does, and we've gotten to the point where now we are just afraid to voice our opinions – even if it is not related to bipartisan politics, we're just afraid to say what we feel.”

Disagreeing with this common reasoning, the current MKSA president argued that favouring a comment or action should not insinuate that a person or organisation is “blinded” from being critical of both sides.

“You should be able as a student and as a citizen to criticise both sides and to take that stance of ‘politicians are there to serve us’ and it is not the other way around, so we've gotten to that point where we are very afraid of sharing our opinions and being vocal politically,” she said. In this context, Schembri feels as if “people fail to see a distinction between being political and being partisan”, “both sides should be criticised”, and “only then can organisations feel that their voices are valued and necessary.”

“If it isn't students who aren't criticising politicians and people governing our country, then I don't know how our future is going to look - it is going to look very dull, bland and corrupt, in my opinion.”

While discussing youths’ interest into local politics, Schembri made reference to the low turnout at KSU’s recently organised MEP debate that was held at campus. Aside from an eggy incident, the debate became renowned for having a low turnout, in spite of the fact that the University had suspended all lectures as to not obstruct students from attending.

“I’d say that maybe student activism is suffering as a whole,” she said, “The turnout was low. Not even half of Sir Temi Zammit Hall was filled, there weren’t even a hundred people” despite the European Parliament elections being just a month away and the debate having free entry.

After making reference to this particular MEP debate held at the University of Malta, MKSA President Schembri said that youth apathy “definitely affects the student organisation turnout and the political views of students representing the student body” before highlighting that “the situation in our country, I would say, is what leads to student apathy.”

Schembri said that she worries that this is “a very dangerous situation.” She said that in spite of politicians calling youths the future or even tomorrow’s leaders, “youths do not feel valued here.”

Looking into the future, she questioned what the country’s future leaders are going to look like emerging from this student culture of fearing to express one’s opinion. Noting that “the image of politics is that it is a very dirty game” and that “in the past couple of years, it has reached another level,” Schembri admitted that she is unsure if there will be enough people in the future who “genuinely believe that the country can be saved or changed for the better.”

“It’s very concerning that we're meant to be the ones to lead our country very soon and we're meant to be the ones to turn it all around when we just feel like we are in a helpless situation where not much can be changed or made better.”

In her opinion, this worrying culture amongst students can be curbed through a collaborative effort by student organisations and the entire student body. She believes that to do so, “student organisations must feel like their voices really do matter and that their opinions are valid, because right now, it seems like they do not feel that way and I don’t blame them.”

 

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