Tell us a little about your background:
LE: I was a graduate student at SUNY-Stony Brook and I was there about seven years. I did my dissertation on grassroots human rights movements in Colombia, I compared two cases. One was internally displaced people's movements in Bogota, which I compared with human rights organizations in rural areas, particularly in one area where human rights movements joined together with labor and women's movements, environmental and indigenous movements and structured their demands in a "platform way." I compared these different repertoires in Colombia and put this into conversation with theories on how international human rights organizations operate. I was born in New York, in Morningside Heights but we lived in Queens.
How did you become interested in your area- in the area of human rights?
LE: I was influenced by the WTO protests in Seattle in 1999, and I was interested and thought it was very odd that this global coalition of activists came together and came to this site. I was intrigued by it. Not just that they were protesting but why they were using these tactics and how these coalitions formed and the strategies for economic empowerment came together. The constellation of ideas was just really interesting to me. That led me to study globalization and alter-globalization movements in the first half of my graduate career. Then I noticed there was a trend within activism of more high-risk activities such as civil disobedience, and there were arguments that this was necessary to affect change, similar to what we're seeing in Tunisia and other places. Then I wanted to study how high-risk activism worked and I thought Colombia was a perfect case. Here is a place where there is a lot of state and non-state repression of activists and yet there is a lot of activism going on-- a lot of labor, human rights and indigenous activism. Yet, people are getting killed all the time, Colombia has the highest rate of murders of union activists in the world-- why? How do they survive and sustain these movements in that context? It seemed like the perfect place to study that, and it so happened that my mother was born in northern Colombia, I speak fluent Spanish and I have Colombian citizenship. If I hadn't had Colombian citizenship I probably would have been deported. There were other people who were deported. The situation seemed analytically relevant and I had a personal connection as well.
You're teaching some new and exciting classes at the Josef Korbel School. Can you
tell me more about them?
LE: Last quarter I taught "Social Movements, Globalization and Human Rights." I've taught "Social Movements Seminar." I'm very focused on social movement theory. The reason for that is because I'm very focused on getting students to think broadly, analytically and clearly about social movements in the world and not just celebrate them or disregard them with a superficial understanding. The class goes through different cases and theories that various authors have put forward. This quarter I'm teaching "Indigenous Movements" which is a combination of anthropological research on indigenous cultures and more social movement theory on how mobilization occurs. So there's a little of anthropology and cultural studies and a little bit of international relations and policy and social movement theory. We look at different cases around the world. I tend to focus on Latin America so maybe 40-50% of the cases are in that region because that's my area of focus. But each continent in represented.
I'm also teaching "Development and Human Rights in Latin America." In that class I focus regionally on Latin America and the syllabus is organized into analytical categories and within that we focus on one issue in each category: drugs in Mexico or religion in Brazil, for example.
Next quarter I'm also teaching "Civil society and Democratization." that is a class which illustrates how social movement and civil society can help promote processes of democratization. Within this class we will look at the dynamics between government and civil society demands.
It's a long way from Morningside Heights to Denver. So how did you make the choice
to come to Colorado versus staying closer to Manhattan?
LE: I do miss NY bagels but Denver has grown on me. The weather here is fantastic. I was telling someone today about how NY is slammed with snow but here it melts pretty quickly- and it's sunny quite often in Colorado too. I am very impressed with the Korbel School. The faculty has done really impressive things-- I have found them to be really engaging here. I was attracted to that-- there is a diversity of approaches on the faculty, as well as interests, that attracts me and challenges me. I've had opportunities to teach classes at Korbel I haven't taught before and that I am passionate about. That's really exciting. The Human Rights program here has been very supportive.
What do you think sets students at the Korbel School apart from other schools where
you have taught or attended previously?
LE: The students are really smart here. Very idealistic, very engaging and they want to go and change the world. I really admire that.
Do you have any advice to students who may want to pursue the route you've chosen
and get a PhD and become professors themselves?
LE: Absolutely. I think if you have that inclination, you're passionate about a particular issue and you possess the discipline to put one foot in front of the other no matter the obstacles that are put in front of you then I'd encourage anyone to do that. Being a professor in this field has turned out to be very intellectually gratifying to me and I couldn't imagine doing anything else. Go for it- it's not a cakewalk but it's worth it.
--Shane Hensinger, MA candidate in International Security
Josef Korbel School of International Studies