The provost of Santa Clara University, where I teach, wrote to the faculty yesterday to announce why he’d decided to suspend our study abroad program El Salvador. Gangs, a spiraling murder rate, violence of the sort not seen since the civil war in 2002. It was a hard letter to read.
I’d had the chance to visit our campus in San Salvador eight years ago, and to tour the praxis sites where our students work with the poor. Central America redefines poverty, and I was shaken to my core by the realities I witnessed. La realidad is what they call it down there. An earthquake shook my hotel violently the night I marched in the processional of a mass to commemorate the 19th anniversary of the Jesuit martyrs. Even the earth seemed to conspire against the El Salvadoran people.
Ever since then I’ve been a strong supporter of the program, encouraging members of my Residential Learning Community to consider studying abroad in Casa de la Solidaridad rather than in the pubs of London. Whenever the program director, Dr. Kevin Yonkers, visits the Santa Clara campus, I invite him visit my classes from recruitment purposes. Indeed, one of my favorite TAs was scheduled to spend the summer in El Salvador with our public health program. Now she is searching for an alternative educational opportunity, and I find myself wondering whether Kevin still has a job.
I’m not writing this to protest the provost’s decision. I understand how concern for our students’ safety ultimately pushed his hand. At the same time, I have to voice my sadness that we may effectively be turning our backs to the poverty and the suffering.
One of the worst facets of El Salvador’s current troubles is that they are almost completely being ignored in the world media. The provost informed us that there have already been 1,399 homicides in January and February of this year. In the age of Trump, why is this outrage not newsworthy?
This is why I write.
Journal of Natural Hist. Ed.
Natural History Institute
Center for Humans & Nature