Eleven undergraduate students and Graduate Student Assistant Maribel Lopez participated in the trip, which took place November 15–19, and included visits to civil rights landmarks in Birmingham and Montgomery, Alabama.
HNU has been sending students to protest the School of Americas, now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, since 2004. The institute is operated by the United States Department of Defense and used to train government soldiers of Latin American countries. Several Latin American dictators who carried out severe human rights abuses were trained at the school.
“The opportunity to gather with a population of people committed to social justice in front of the School of the Americas in Georgia, not only encourages student participants to be more active citizens and transformative leaders, but it demonstrates the strong commitment to social justice that is the foundation of our University,” said Javier De Paz, assistant director of the Center for Social Justice and Civic Engagement. De Paz accompanied the students on the November trip with Sister Susan Wells, Assistant Professor Chiho Sawada, and Rebecca Sawada.
Students said that visiting the South and the School of Americas protest was moving and impactful. Their journey to the South included tours of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, 16th Street Baptist Church, Kelly Ingram Park, Poverty Law Center, and Rosa Parks Library and Museum.
“It had a really big impact,” said Maria Isabel Fernandez Sotomayor, one of the students who went on the trip. “To see how the School of the Americas tied with the civil rights movement. . . . how similar it was, how people suffered, how many people have died.”
In addition to participating in the protest, many students have studied the School of Americas in their University courses and were involved in HNU’s SOA Awareness Week in September. Events included a presentation by SOA Watch activist Nico Udu-Gama, movie screenings of Hidden in Plain Sight and Crossing the Line, and a talk by Buzz Sherwood, a former U.S. Army lieutenant colonel.