USC students in Myanmar face uncertainty amid military coup

Burmese students living in the country face political tension, WiFi cutoffs, and lack of mental health resources in the midst of an already-challenging semester.

In the early morning of February 1, a Marshall student named Karl was having a nightmare. He dreamt that he was in the middle of a protest in Yangon, the largest city in Myanmar. At 6 a.m., his mom woke him up yelling, announcing that the military had seized power. In a coup d’état, the military overthrew the country’s elected government and inflicted martial law.

Karl is a Burmese student and a junior at USC, double majoring in Business Administration and Economics. For security reasons, his last name is omitted. He, alongside other Burmese USC students, faces uncertainty as he finds himself in a country with political instability.

The country of Myanmar was under military control for decades and had just recently lived under a democracy. Back in November, the county held general elections where The National League for Democracy won 83% of the available seats. But the military called the election fraudulent. The country’s civilian leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, is currently arrested.

Since then, international and domestic flights have been blocked in the country, and WiFi and communication outlets are frequently cut off. Across the country, people have been going out to protest and authorities responded with guns and water cannons.

In an Instagram post, the USC Burmese Student Association (BURSA) said they were “extremely shocked, saddened, and infuriated” by the coup. Burmese Trojans have also participated in peaceful protests, alongside thousands in the country.

Because of the claims of election fraud and the country’s history of military ruling, the coup was not a surprise to many.

“The military has always been behind all of this,” Karl said. “The military does not represent us, nor that represents the democratic government [of Myanmar].”

“The situation is incredibly complex” explained Accounting and Business Administration USC student Thu Wati Aung, saying one should “not lump Myanmar government into one, because they’re two very different groups that are fighting for two very, very different things.”

Although Myanmar had begun a transition to democracy in 2011, the civilian government was in constant tension with the military, who had been in charge of the country since the sixties. The country has also seen decades of conflicts between the military and ethnic minorities, including the Muslim Rohingya ethnic cleansing.

COVID-19 only adds to the situation.

“I cried about the second vaccine shipment from India being blocked by the military,” Aung said, describing photos she said she saw of vaccines that were supposed to be given to healthcare workers given to the military instead.

As a response to the coup, U.S. President Joe Biden implemented sanctions on the country on February 10. Some individuals are now restricted from doing business in the U.S. and its entities, and army commanders are now halted from accessing $1 billion in assets, according to Los Angeles Times.

With political tensions rising, the Burmese Students organization at USC is asking the university for academic support and leniency, mental health resources, and if needed, USC Student Financial Services to be considerate since local financial institutions are closed and it is uncertain when they will be running again. Their Instagram statement reads: “As members of the Trojan Family, the USC Burmese Student Association calls upon the University and the community to reaffirm and make explicit its commitment to supporting Trojans in Myanmar.”

“It would be very heartening for us to hear that admin and faculty do stand with us and stand for democracy and ask for the release of the political, democratically-elected political leaders that are being detained right now,” Aung said.

Usually, USC international students live in Los Angeles, where they are able to attend class on campus. But this year, with COVID-19 causing a shift to remote learning, many Burmese students are at home in Myanmar. Many Burmese students now have to attend their online classes with unreliable WiFi connections, not knowing when the connection will go or for how long. Just this past weekend, their internet was shut down for over 24 hours.

While some students have contacted professors asking for accommodations, which in return have been supported, BURSA is requesting an official response from the school. The Office of International Services has contacted them individually to offer support, and according to the same office, Counseling and Mental Health in USC Student Health and the Crisis and Support Intervention office have also reached each student individually. USC has yet to make a public announcement.

Myanmar citizens also need to renew their student visas every year, but it is unclear if they will be able to do so now.

“We’re less concerned about whether the embassy will grant us a visa but more concerned about our government, whether they would let us fly out of the country,” said Business and Accounting student Su Lei, whose last name is also omitted for security reasons.

Karl is also concerned about how students living in Myanmar will finish the semester if the political situation escalates.

“What if we miss a quiz? What if we miss homework for two consecutive weeks?” Karl said. “We’re requesting that the university take this action soon so that we have more clarity from our side.”