October 16, 2018

Turmoil in Thailand: Protests erupt near Webster University’s Bangkok campus

Tens of thousands of protestors have swarmed outside  Thailand Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s office in Bangkok, demanding her resignation.

The bulk of the protestors, who have been gathering since early November, are two miles away from Webster University’s Bangkok campus, Webster, Director of Public Relations Patrick Giblin said.

“It hasn’t affected any areas around our campus,” Giblin said.

Alexis Wolf studies international relations at Webster’s Bangkok campus, which serves around 60 graduate students. She has lived in Thailand for two years. Although Wolf has seen protestors near Webster’s Bangkok campus, she said they have never made her feel unsafe.

“Some days (the protests) are close, other days not so close,” Wolf said.

Wolf said she was late to a class last week because she had to push her way through protestors at the Bangkok train station, which lies adjacent to the Maneeya Center that houses Webster’s Bangkok campus.

The refugee organization she volunteers for has canceled its meetings for the last two weeks because of demonstrations, she said.

The anti-government protests have left five dead and 300 wounded, the Associated Press reported.

Giblin said Webster is closely monitoring the protests.

“We’re keeping a very close eye on what’s going on,” Giblin said. “And we’re trying to keep the lines of communications open between our campus here and the people at our campus in Bangkok, just in case things seem to spread further and there seems to be any immediate danger to our students at the Bangkok campus.”

Students currently in Thailand, and those attending in the spring received an email assuring them that Webster is actively following the situation.

The email contained a link to a “security message” from the United States Embassy in Bangkok, which provided emergency contacts for U.S. citizens in Thailand. The United States Department of State has not released an official travel warning or travel alert for Thailand.

The Bangkok Post reported that eight Thailand universities announced closures on Dec. 1. Bangkok University (BU), which according to Google Maps is twice as far from the center of the demonstrations as Webster’s Bangkok campus, will be closed for the duration of the semester. It is set to reopen on Jan. 3. International students at BU will take final examinations in their home countries.

Giblin said Webster would not begin to consider making arrangements for students in Bangkok to come home until the State Department made an official travel warning or alert.

“It hasn’t reached that level yet,” Giblin said.

Wolf said she wished there was more communication between Webster and its Bangkok students, but she does not feel the situation is volatile.

“I’ve never seen (the protestors) get violent,” Wolf said. “It’s always people just chanting and blowing whistles together.”

Study Abroad Advisor Kimberly Mantia-Ochoa said she has not had any students express apprehensions about the unrest in Thailand. However, she did have a parent of one of the Webster students in Thailand contact her with concerns.

Webster student Claire Hagarty will study abroad at Webster’s Cha-am campus in in January for the spring semester. She said she received Webster’s email about the protests but has not researched the situation. She plans to seek more information regarding Thailand’s political turmoil once fall classes are.

“It is encouraging to know that (the university is) following the events really closely, and they’re really keeping an eye on it, but I think it could make anybody a little bit nervous,” Hagarty said.

The Journal contacted five students who will be studying in Thailand in the spring. The students said they were not worried about the protests since Webster’s main undergraduate campus, Cha-am, is nearly two hours from Bangkok, where the bulk of the protests are taking place.

“So far, there doesn’t seem to be any immediate threat or danger to any of our students on the (Bangkok) campus,” Giblin said. “All the news accounts, as well as the accounts we’ve heard from our administrators (in Thailand), have said that all of the activity is focused on the government building.”

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