Boğaziçi students accused of elitism: 'We use public buses, we are tenants, we barely scrape by'

Following the state appointment of Melih Bulu as rector of Istanbul’s Boğaziçi University last week, people close to the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government have accused students protesters calling for a fair and democratic selection process of elitism.

One such figure, journalist Hilal Kaplan, expressed her support Bulu, saying on Twitter: “As a Boğaziçi graduate, I know that there will be people who will oppose you with a self-evident arrogance, and I expect you to continue on your way without paying them attention. Boğaziçi belongs to the nation, not only to elitists.”

But are Boğaziçi students really all so well off? Ahval spoke with several students who shared their personal stories and thoughts on the accusations.

Neşe a second-year student at Boğaziçi University who has not participated in any protests so far, said she and her colleagues were in disbelief after hearing the accusations.

“Frankly, we laughed when we heard. We use public buses. We are tenants. We barely scrape by,” she told Ahval.

Hailing from Ankara, Neşe worked with her father at his street stall selling toast and other snacks, while preparing for the Boğaziçi entrance exam. Since starting university, both Neşe and her family have suffered from financial problems. However, with her family’s support and a scholarship she found after a long search, her life is back on track.

“Many of our friends are making a living with the money they earn from part-time jobs. We clean tables in cafes while we work … What elite status do we have? I do not understand why those who own companies or factories make such accusations against us.”

Protests have continued in many places including the university campus and Kadıköy dock. Onur, whose father was a factory worker in the northwestern Kocaeli province, said that the students protesting spanned across the political spectrum.

“I am a leftist through and through … The capital class wants to make money from education. We call for a free and equal education for all,” Onur, who attended the protests in Kadıköy, told Ahval.

“But not everyone participating in the action is leftist. There are also many liberal and conservative students. What everyone has in common here is a rejection of injustice.”

Kübra, the daughter of a housewife and a chauffeur, disagreed with the implication that the Boğaziçi student body was comprised of wealthy elitists.

“When we look at the meaning of elitism, we see it as an approach that defends the idea that there are, or should be, people or groups that come to the forefront in almost every field, especially politics, with their innate talents or the experiences they have gained in life,” Kübra said.

“If you are called elitist because you received a distinguished education in your area, I cannot say anything. But the students here go to this university with their knowledge, not their financial strength.”

Kübra added she had no judgments about Bulu as a person. “He seems like a good guy, but it is unfair that his appointment was not made by way of an election.”

Bulu said on a TV programme that he enjoyed listening to the heavy metal band Metallica, a comment that did not go unnoticed by protesters. One student is seen holding a banner with the famous Metallica song title, “Nothing Else Matters”.

 “The problem is not listening to Metallica. The problem is that he has been unilaterally appointed by the government,” said the student, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“Many people come to this university from across the country with the scores they get on their exams. If we were rich, we would go to private universities. My father is a farmer. I don't come from a wealthy family.”

Students of Boğaziçi University protest against state appointment of a new rector, in Istanbul, Turkey, on Jan. 6, 2021. (REUTERS/Umit Bektas)