Forum gathers to consider options to support El Salvador
THE SANTA CLARA
April 14, 2016
In response to widespread concern following the suspension of the study abroad program, CASA El Salvador, students, staff and faculty gathered on April 13 to discuss how the university can continue its engagement in El Salvador. While the forum did not produce any concrete plans, there was a general consensus among the students that the university should continue to support the connections to schools and charities in El Salvador.
“We’re all here to continue to underscore that sense of connection not only to the experience El Salvador has brought to our university community, but certainly to the kind of partnerships and relationships that that have fostered in the actual country of El Salvador,” said Lulu Santana, director of Campus Ministry.
Salvadoran partners from the CASA program were also present at the April 13 meeting through a projected video call.
Approximately 40 members of the campus community sat at round tables in the Nobili Dining Room where they had the opportunity to brainstorm ideas to maintain the university’s relations with the Latin American country, which the university has been directly involved with for more than 15 years.
Michael Nuttall, interim executive director of the Ignatian Center, asked attendees how many had been to El Salvador and nearly everyone answered his question affirmatively with raised hands.
Due to a travel warning issued by the State Department in January, which warned U.S. residents about increased crime and violence in El Salvador, the university chose to suspend the program for the fall and summer 2016 sessions.
Last month, CASA alumni started an online petition asking the university to reassess its decision and continue to support CASA partners in El Salvador. According to Nuttall, around late March or early April, Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Dennis Jacobs sent an email proposing that a delegation be sent to El Salvador to perform a risk assessment.
“It would be really easy for the institution to be able to say, for X or Y or Z reasons, we’re not able to fulfill our commitments. For me, to have that decision actually be, we’re gonna commit further resources to be able to see what’s possible…just had a personal impact on me,” Nuttall said.
After Nuttall and Santana provided pertinent background information on El Salvador and the recent suspension of the CASA program, attendees brainstormed and wrote down their ideas and suggestions. Those present via video call, including Kevin and Trina Yonkers-Talz, who live in El Salvador where they serve as co-directors of CASA, also generated ideas during this time.
“We know at this point there might be thoughts and ideas that are messy… that’s okay,” Santana said. “As we put together and listen to one another our hope is that certain things will be surfacing and emerge that could provide us with better direction.”
Many ideas were put forth, all of which Nuttall and Santana said they will be condensing into a more concise document in the coming weeks. Almost all groups urged the university to maintain close ties with Universidad Centroamericana, the Jesuit university Santa Clara has long partnered with, as well as the praxis sites where CASA students participate in community-based learning. Others also proposed exchanges, facilitated through technology, between Salvadoran and Santa Clara faculty and students. A few groups also proposed the idea of bringing Salvadoran students or faculty to Santa Clara in a refugee capacity.
Fr. Paul Soukup, S.J. who serves as the head of the Communication Department suggested the idea of “distance learning,” in which a course is created to link Santa Clara and Salvadoran faculty and students. His group also suggested using on-campus spaces like the de Saisset museum or the new Art and Art History building to celebrate Salvadoran culture through art. Additionally, Soukup urged members of the campus community to advocate for Salvadorans and raise awareness on the injustices the people there face.
“We can do a lot more to help all of us–faculty, students, staff–be much more aware of the situation in El Salvador,” Soukup said.
Craig Stephens, director of the public health program who facilitated one of the small groups, suggested that the university partner with nonprofits, non-governmental organizations and the university’s own centers of excellence to remain connected with El Salvador. Stephens’ group also suggested supporting ongoing research surrounding Central America.
Over video call, longtime praxis cite leader Cristina Quintanilla said she was grateful for the Santa Clara community’s desire to maintain close relationships with CASA partners despite the suspension, but also expressed her sadness that the program will not be continuing.
She said that with the many difficulties and social challenges in their community, CASA partners like her really feel the loss of students.
“There is still hope in El Salvador,” Santana said, translating for Quintanilla.
The event concluded after an hour with Santana and Nuttall reiterating that this conversation was the first step of many that will be taken to preserve the CASA program. From the ideas presented, they said they are confident that tangible next steps will surface. Nuttall said that any additional suggestions can be directed to either him or Santana.
“We all know that there’s a collective passionate connection to this place and these people and these relationships and so we want to be able to do anything we can to continue to deepen that,” Nuttall said.
Contact Jenni Sigl at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.