Students studying in France say they are safe from riots

Riot police, tear gas, mass transit shutdowns and 700,000 angry protesters are not part of the everyday lives of U.S. college students.

Such elements, however, dot the campus scene surrounding eight Duke students currently studying abroad in Paris.

French citizens have taken to the streets of major cities in huge numbers-estimates reached as high as 2.7 million nationwide Tuesday-to protest proposed legislation allowing employers to fire workers under the age of 26 without reason during their first two years of employment.

Junior Sabrina West is in the City of Lights with the New York University in Paris program.

She said the rioting has not interfered with her classes but is still unavoidable.

"Our campus is in a pretty posh neighborhood on the perimeter of the city, so at school you don't feel the presence of the riots," West wrote in an online correspondence.

West, who lives in central Paris, said transportation is very difficult-the city's subway, the Metro, is running sporadically. In addition, sites such as the Eiffel Tower are closed.

"Overall, the mood in the city is very somber right now," she wrote. "The protest [this weekend] was pathetic (there were people playing frisbee), but today's riots were no joke."

Despite warnings to American citizens from the U.S. State Department regarding the protests, West said that she has not felt imperiled.

"I haven't sought out the route of the march, and the aggression is mostly toward the authority figures of police and government," she wrote. "The city feels deserted and tense."

American students, for the most part, are not taking part in protests, West wrote. Many of them sympathize with the concerns of French young people-partly because such a large, broad-based movement would be unthinkable in the United States, she wrote.

The proposed legislation is intended to drive down high unemployment rates among French youth. French workers of all ages enjoy a very strong net of employment protection, but government officials hope to improve employment prospects for youth by giving businesses more leeway in personnel decisions.

"We do have a wonderful activist community at Duke, but... I don't think Duke students on the whole believe they have the power to do more than impotently express their displeasure," West wrote.

"I think this is a reflection of the political involvement of American youth culture as opposed to the protest culture of Europe," she added.

Margaret Riley, director of the Office of Study Abroad, said although Duke in Paris officials had taken steps to ensure the safety of students, she felt there is no imminent danger. She added that students have been encouraged not to participate in demonstrations.

Of more pressing concern for Riley is the effort to ensure that students get the credits they need in the face of class cancellations at the University of Paris, known as the Sorbonne.

"Staff there are working very hard at arranging tutors to come work with the students because of the classes they've been missing," Riley said.

But that doesn't mean that students have been asked to tune out the riots.

"They're a part of making history, and we want to make sure they realize that," she said.


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