Marcia Esparza and Daniel Auld Raise Awareness About Historical Injustices In Latin America

Marcia Esparza and Daniel Auld Raise Awareness About Historical Injustices In Latin America

Marcia Esparza and Daniel Auld Raise Awareness About Historical Injustices In Latin America

Awardees of the 2018–2019 Inaugural Presidential Student-Faculty Research Collaboration Award, Daniel Auld, Director of Learning Technologies, Academic Services & Assessment, and Marcia Esparza, Associate Professor of Criminal Justice, are embarking on their new research with the goal of bringing awareness to the injustices in Latin America. Their ambitious project is titled Historical Memory Project/E-Portfolio Collaboration, and their hope is that it will resonate with many people in the John Jay community.

“Our goal is to teach and raise awareness of state violence and human rights crimes and empower immigrant and diasporic communities to form a shared sense of identity and to become the next generation of human rights activists seeking truth, justice, and equality.”—Daniel Auld

“Our project is rooted in John Jay’s Historical Memory Project, or HMP, which cultivates historical memory to memorialize victims of state-sponsored terror, raise awareness of historical injustices in Latin America and beyond, and foster our collective human rights memory. We maintain that the recovery of historical memory is an antidote to ongoing historical injustices,” says Auld. “In pursuit of our mission, HMP preserves the collective memory of the forcibly disappeared, the tortured, the massacred, and all those whose human rights were violated by planned and coordinated state actions. Our goal is to teach and raise awareness of state violence and human rights crimes and empower immigrant and diasporic communities to form a shared sense of identity and become the next generation of human rights activists seeking truth, justice, and equality.”

Daniel Auld
Daniel Auld

When asked why they were drawn to this research, both Auld and Esparza had their own reasoning. But, for Esparza it was personal. “In 1997 through 1998, I had the unique opportunity to take testimonies from war and genocide survivors in Guatemala, while working for the United Nations' Truth Commission. This experience allowed me to draw parallels with my own experience with violence growing up in Chile under the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet,” said Esparza. “Since I came back to New York City from Guatemala in 2000, I have been committed to sharing these experiences with students, diaspora, and immigrants, to teach them about the long-lasting consequences of gruesome and systematic state violence.”

Speaking to Auld, his desire to conduct this research stems from his work as an educational psychologist, something he hopes will foster students to have a deeper understanding of history. “I’ve examined the use of stories to help the mind contextualize events in more personal and meaningful ways,” said Auld. “By researching historical artifacts, analyzing them from multiple perspectives and selecting artifacts of their own choosing, students will have a deeper understanding of the events they examine in the historical situation of the individuals affected.  

“Since I came back to New York City from Guatemala in 2000, I have been committed to sharing these experiences with students, diaspora, and immigrants, to teach them about the long-lasting consequences of gruesome and systematic state violence.”—Marcia Esparza

Eager for the student-faculty collaboration, Esparza shared her thoughts on working with John Jay students. “We are excited to work closely with the students to support their research skill acquisition,” said Esparza. “Our aim is that this research internship course will yield a workable syllabus with meaningful experiences for the students to learn from and apply this learning to their future careers, so that other students can follow in their footsteps and become researchers of historical memories.” We asked the team more about their research and why John Jay students should participate in this important project.

Marcia Esparza
Marcia Esparza

What do you hope to accomplish with this specific research?
Our project includes an internship to provide students with the research skills needed to investigate human rights crimes and familiarize themselves with physical and digital archives. These skills will enable them to critically assess the connections among crimes against humanity and become active participants in the preservation of historical memory. Further, they will be supported through the creation of ePortfolios that support reflective learning strategies through the investigation of historical memory content.  Students will identify similarities and differences among the histories they are assigned and comparable histories they select for their own ePortfolio projects. We hope that by the end of the spring semester, they will present their digital work and be recognized for the work they contribute to historical memory and for their own achievements as digital humanities and human rights researchers. 

“This research is all about issues of justice.  It’s about recovering the data of those who suffered from egregious crimes, whose stories have been suppressed, often violently and forcibly so, and bringing them to the surface. “—Daniel Auld

As a College focused on justice issues, how do you hope this research will move the needle forward justice wise?
This research is all about issues of justice. It’s about recovering the data of those who suffered from egregious crimes, whose stories have been suppressed, often violently and forcibly so, and bringing them to the surface. Our hope is to enlighten history with the stories of those who suffered so horribly in Latin America and empower future justice advocates to continue this work.   

What makes your approach to this research unique?
Students will have a unique opportunity to interact with human rights material that has been collected through fieldwork such as photographs, music, and testimonies. The over 30 human rights collections make a valuable source for understanding the experience with state terror, genocide, and human rights crimes. By examining these crimes, and resistance to it, students will be encouraged to critically analyze the past by focusing on the present.

In addition to having the students examine an assigned or chosen artifact, they will also identify another historical artifact, possibly one from their own cultural background. By selecting a more personal choice, students will be able to apply and refine their newly-acquired research skills to a historical event and a cultural legacy that has significant meaning to them. And, they can draw comparisons and distinctions between the two artifacts and cultural histories to deepen the understanding of the atrocities that affect victims of human rights violations. 

“Students need to foster applied research skills. Engaging in this work will help them see how individual human rights artifacts contribute to the story of the individual, the culture and the diaspora.” —Marcia Esparza

Since this research will be a collaboration with students, can you tell us why students should participate in collaborations like this one?
Students need to foster applied research skills. Engaging in this work will help them see how individual human rights artifacts contribute to the story of the individual, the culture and the diaspora. By adding the component of investigating a historical artifact of their choosing, the students will be able to bring their passion to this work. From there, it can springboard into many possibilities for the students around furthering their research skills and commitment to social justice.