by Christian Diaz, News Editor
For most Americans, the drug conflict currently raging in regions south of the border is only a minor trivia fact. To the Environmental Leadership Center and the International Programs Office however, the war has become a hiccup for an ambitious bilateral initiative set to unveil this summer.
Because the United States government issued a travel warning to Mexico in response to the escalating narco-violence, students receiving federal financial aid cannot allocate that money toward studying abroad in the region.
“This is one of the barriers that we’re trying to overcome. I’m working with our insurance provider to see how we can go forward with the program,” said Naomi Otterness.
In addition the school has to navigate through the logistical problems implicated by the full-scale travel warning in terms of liability for the safety of students abroad.
The Global Exchange for Sustainability Program was developed by the Environmental Leadership Center and the International Program with the intention of promoting a steady flow of student and faculty exchange between Warren Wilson College and the Universidad Popular Autonoma en Puebla (UPAEP).
ELC Interim Director John Brock approached Otterness with the idea of recreating the college’s signature triad in an international setting. She recommended that the college develop the initiative with an institution which has already committed to working closely with the college.
The college plans to move forward with the initiative. UPAEP can still host students from the United States if staff undergo safety training as mandated by the White House.
Four faculty and one staff member are scheduled to travel to Puebla in November.
In the meantime, the International Programs Office hopes that UPAEP is actively recruiting Mexican students to come to Warren Wilson.
A bilateral agreement was reached in January when Sandy Pfeiffer and Otterness were invited to tour the grounds at UPAIP.
“There was a lot of connection. Sandy and I met with the service learning office there. We knew they were developing certain projects in the region dealing with sustainability in addition to culture and language,” said Otterness. “We would like to go forward with it because this is a close institutional friend with a similar mission.”
Despite the travel warning, Puebla is statistically safer than most American cities. However 50,000 Mexicans have been murdered since 2006 when President Felipe Calderon mobilized troops to combat drug trafficking with the financial support of the United States government via The Merida Initiative, which grants $1.3 billion in military aid to our southern neighbor.