Students who traveled to Fort Benning, Georgia, to protest the School of Americas (SOA) talked about their experiences with the HNU community in January. The November 2013 trip, which included visits to civil rights landmarks in the South, marked the 10th year that HNU students have protested the SOA.
“It was an opportunity really to understand the historical context of where the School of Americas is located, and to also get a bigger perspective of the cultural environment that our own country faces,” Director of the Center for Social Justice and Civic Engagement Keegan Mills said at the January 28 event.
The event included presentations by the six students who participated in the SOA trip and comments by an alumnus who traveled to Fort Benning in 2004.
“Of my whole life this is one of … the most powerful things I’ve seen—that Holy Names still sends delegates 10 years later,” said Joe O’Neill ’07, one of the students who participated in HNU’s first SOA protest in 2004. “It’s so awesome to see young people that care and keep caring.”
The School of Americas, now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security
Cooperation, 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.
Students reflected on what they gained from the SOA protest and vigil, which included a daylong workshop with attendees from around their world, and their visits to civil rights landmarks in Birmingham and Montgomery, Alabama. Civil rights sites that were visited by students include the 16th Street Baptist Church, Southern Poverty Law Center, and Rosa Parks Museum.
“I feel like on this trip I grew both academically and personally. Of course, I learned a lot of new knowledge about civil rights and about the School of Americas, but I also learned that every person counts,” said Yadira Muñoz, a senior. “It takes a whole community of people with the same goal to make that change or difference that you want to see.”
Another student commented on how her experiences have influenced her professional outlook.
“I learned a lot about inequality and justice through this trip—that was very inspiring—and reflected on how it pertained to me in the future as a nursing profession(al),” said freshman Allison Chan, a nursing student. “There are a lot of health disparities in our country and underserved populations have increased health problems that cause many illnesses … because they do not have the same and equal access to health care.”