Xavier students participate in School of the Americas protest

By: Tatum Hunter

Eight Xavier students, accompanied by Dr. Irene Hodgson, travelled to Ft. Benning, Ga., to attend a three-day demonstration at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC).

The event was held on Nov. 22 in protest of WHINSEC, formerly known as School of the Americas (SOA), an American-run military training school for Latin American soldiers. Graduates of the school have been responsible for a series of human rights violations, including the assassination of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero in 1980, the massacre of the entire village of El Mozote in 1981 and the assassination of six Jesuit priests in El Salvador in 1989.

WHINSEC’s website describes the institution as “one tool supporting U.S. policy in the region with its primary focus on enhancing security force capacity to meet issues and doing so in a legal, moral (and) ethical context.”

Although WHINSEC claims that it altered its curriculum in recent years to include human rights instruction, many critics want the school to be permanently shut down to acknowledge the crimes attributed to graduates and to rehabilitate the United States’ image throughout Latin America.

The annual protest, sponsored by the organization SOA Watch, drew thousands of demonstrators to Ft. Benning. The Xavier students in attendance were able to see performances, hear speeches and learn about the cause.

They also took time to remember the victims of violence in Latin America and celebrate the resistance movement’s successes, such as the removal of torture techniques from the school’s training. Each student had to complete a non-violence training course before attending the protest.

“I’ve been to El Salvador, and I’ve seen the gravesites of Oscar Romero, the six Jesuits, the churchwomen and the people of El Mozote,” Rachel Piepsney, one of the eight students who participated, said. “To see those things and not speak up and stand in resistance would be a great dishonor to the people who helped me learn and to myself. It’s just a sign of respect for all the people I encountered there. It’s a continuation of what I’ve learned.”

Junior philosophy major and Newswire Op-Ed Editor Taylor Fulkerson has participated in the protest three times and helped organize Xavier’s involvement this year.

“I’d like to see more active participation from the Xavier community,” Fulkerson said. “Thinking especially of the six Jesuit priests in El Salvador, I think that this should be considered part of our history as a Jesuit institution. These (martyrs) are people we should look to as role models.”

Fulkerson believes participating in the protest will affect students’ lives, even after they return home.

“It’s empowering to recognize that America isn’t perfect,” Fulkerson said. “The protest isn’t just about being there. It’s about coming back and having those tough conversations.”

One thought on “Xavier students participate in School of the Americas protest

  1. Your article came to me via Google Alert, and it reminded me of a comment by American author Jessamyn West, who said, “We want the facts to fit the preconceptions. When they dont it is easier to ignore the facts than to change the preconceptions.” Everything in the second paragraph is either completely untrue or so misleading that one wonders why anyone would accept it as fact without any real research. It is a shame that Xavier students would come 600 miles to Columbus, Georgia, to protest an institution that is only three miles from the protest site, and never visit it. And you could. Anyone on any workday may come to the Institute, sit in its classes, talk with its students and faculty, and review its instructional materials. Make your own evaluation of it.
    As for the facts vs preconceptions, there are no ‘graduates’ of these schools, only graduates of professional, adult courses based on legal, moral, ethical U.S. doctrine. Calling someone a graduate of SOA is the same as calling everyone who has completed a course or two at Xavier a graduate of the university. And trying to hold an organization responsible for the behavior of those who had incidentally been there without any indication that the attendance had anything to do with the behavior is inane.
    And finally, ‘critics’ are people who analyze and give reasoned evaluations of their subject. Just as one would not trust a movie critic who didn’t watch movies or a restaurant critic who never eats in restaurants, one should not trust those who make allegations about WHINSEC and its predecessor schools without ever doing the original research that would give those allegations credibility.
    So come on down (Spring and Summer are the best times, when a variety of courses will be in session) and spend a few days with us. Lee Rials, Public Affairs Officer, WHINSEC

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