Just before Spring break, SLC for Scholars at Risk (SAR), a student group at Sarah Lawrence, traveled to Washington D.C. and took part in a seminar on academic freedom advocacy as well as organized a multitude of meetings with senator and congressmen staffers to discuss and lobby for the topic. SLC for SAR is an organization created in conjunction with Janet Reilly’s “People on the Move: Narrating Displacement, Critiquing Crisis, and Advocating for Refugees” Politics seminar. The activism in this group has focused on the current violations of the right to Academic Freedom in Venezuela.
In Venezuela today, there is severe repression of freedom of speech and academic freedom, creating a political environment in which the current regime cannot be formally questioned in any way. Within higher education, professors and students who are perceived as “challenging” by the Venezuelan government are being unlawfully detained and imprisoned. This is a clear violation of the rights guaranteed to all people that are stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
On Feb 23, 2017, Profesor Guevara, a retired economics professor at the University of Carabobo, was brought before a military court and charged with “treason,” “incitement to rebellion,” and crimes against the “security and independence of the nation.” He spent 9 months unlawfully imprisoned for the crime of writing academic papers about the Venezuelan economy. He is still awaiting his trial. In addition to this continuation of suppression to individuals like Guevara, the entire population suffers from a humanitarian crisis perpetrated by Nicolas Maduro’s regime. Issues include but are not limited to a severe lack of access to medical supplies and a failing economy dependent on a dwindling resource of oil. The value of the Venezuelan Bolivar has been rapidly plummeting. As of 2018, the current currency configuration is one Venezuelan Bolívar being equivalent to $0.00003 US Dollars.
The international community is allowing President Maduro and his regime to suppress the education of Venezuelans. As long as this continues, there will be no social platform for discussion of other gross human rights violations in Venezuela. We must call for action and pressure from our government officials in the form of denouncements, sanctions, and reports on the inhumane regime that remains in power today.
On SLC for SAR’s trip to Washington D.C. students met with other college groups that are also involved with the Scholars At Risk organization and lobbied to their representatives on the hill. In addition to the meetings with congress staff, students had time to do drop-in meetings. Two students from Vermont dropped by the office of one of their representatives and were given the chance to sit down and share Guevara’s case and our ask with them without prior meeting planned. These staffers were very grateful for the students’ interest and passion on the issue at hand.
But why should Sarah Lawrence students care about academic freedom? Issues like these matter because this doesn’t just affect countries like Venezuela, threats to freedom can happen anywhere. Two of the most important tools that we have as students are our minds and voices. If we have an opportunity to raise our voices and advocate for others, then we must do so.
SLC for SAR is hosting a panel that concerns Venezuelan academic freedom on April 20th at 5 p.m. in the Titsworth Lecture Hall. Please join us to learn more about the ongoing restrictions against academic freedom in Venezuela.
If you have any questions or want more info, you can reach SLC for SAR at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @SLC_for_SAR, or on Facebook @SLCforSAR.
This piece was submitted by members of SLCforSAR, Ilyssa Daly '20 and Joe Hille '20.