New center to focus on human rights and peace studies


Antonio, a Guatemalan worker who tried to cross the Arizona border in 2005, was abandoned by his smugglers for not walking fast enough. A non-profit group later found him in Southern Arizona’s Sonora Desert, baking in 115-degree heat. Though Antonio tried to get help from several patrol units that passed him on the highway, none had stopped.

“Several border patrol agents to whom I’ve spoken over the years admitted to stopping only for ten or more migrants. Otherwise, as one put it, ‘it’s not worth the paperwork,’” said Linda Green, director of the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Arizona, who told Antonio’s story as part of her talk, Arizona Borderlands: Immigration, Militarization, Inequality at Lehman College on Feb. 24.

Ms. Green was the keynote speaker at the first-ever conference hosted by the Center for Human Rights and Peace Studies at Lehman College. Director Victoria Sanford, a Riverdale resident, said the Center, which opened in late January, will serve as an open forum for community members, students and university staff.

“We see our role as a human right center not as only being scholarly presentations about human rights but actually providing a connection to practitioners of human rights and to people who are seeking to build bridges with others working in different parts of the world,” said Ms. Sanford, who hopes to partner with organizations within the Riverdale community.

Ms. Sanford said the center, the only of its kind in the Bronx, falls right in line with the college’s history of working for human rights. It was at Lehman College that the United Nations started drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1946.

The Center is also working with Lehman faculty to develop an interdisciplinary minor in Human Rights and Peace Studies that includes a Research Committee Working Group to support human rights work by Lehman students.

Organizers chose immigration as the subject of its first conference because, they said, it captures the Center’s mission.

“We hope to identify ways in which we can work collaboratively, through advocacy, coalition-building and community outreach, to advance equitable immigration reform and justice for immigrants,” Ms. Stanford said during the event.

Luis Saavedra, an anthropology major who attended the conference, said immigration is “a touchy subject” for him.

“For a nation of democracy we are a quite a paradox. We grant rights yet we denied them. We are destroying human dignity and immigrants livelihoods,” Mr. Saavedra wrote later in an e-mail.

Co-sponsored by the City College of New York’s master’s program in the Study of the Americas, CUNY Law School’s Immigrant and Refugee Rights Clinic, Lehman College’s Office of the Provost, as well as its anthropology, Latin American and Puerto Rican Studies departments, last week’s conference was the first of many planned for the near future.

On Thusday, March 10, it will host a photography exhibition with images of exhumations from the civil war in Guatemala and on Friday, April 8, it will sponsor a conference on gender violence.

For more information on the center, go to