By Sarah Lehr
Last minute safety concerns prompted the College to cancel the Kenyon-Honduras Archaeology and Anthropology Program scheduled for this semester. In the past, the program has offered undergraduates the opportunity to research archaeology or cultural anthropology in the rural towns of Petoa and Pueblo-Nuevo, Honduras.
The College’s decision came on the heels of the Peace Corps’ withdrawal from the country.
“If the Peace Corps said it was unsafe, I was not about to send students and faculty to Honduras,” Provost Nayef Samhat said. “… I know how much it means to both students and faculty and to the people of the community [in Honduras] where they work. I have great sympathy for the impact it has had on the lives of many. It’s extremely unfortunate. Professionally, we did the right thing given the risks.”
Samhat consulted with President S. Georgia Nugent on the issue in late December.
“If everyone is trying to evacuate a country at the same time it can be a very dangerous situation, and we just didn’t want to put our students at risk,” Nugent said. “It was a very difficult decision because we knew it was important to students, to that faculty couple because this has been their life’s work, but we just thought that it was not safe to go forward.”
Professor of Anthropology Patricia Urban, who directs the program with her husband Professor of Anthropology Edward Schortman, also expressed regret for canceling the program. “We are … sad for the students who cannot go and for the people in the small and very peaceful town where we live, who are left without employment in perilous economic times,” she said.
Once the College made the decision, Samhat sent an email to would-be 2012 participants on Dec. 27. “Althoughthis message comes late, I want to assure you that we are working to identify alternative off-campus programs that will serve the academic needs of students, and to ensure housing and course availability for those students who will not be going abroad this spring,” he wrote.
Marne Ausec, director for the Center for Global Engagement, worked around the clock to come up with alternative off-campus options for students.
Those who decided to return to Kenyon were quickly enrolled in courses and placed in living spaces. Both Samhat and Nugent praised her efforts. “Ausec has simply done extraordinary work identifying other programs for students and dealing with other issues” Samhat said. “The anthropology department was extremely helpful, as well – Professor [David] Suggs, in particular.”
Hannah Hathaway ’13, who planned to travel to Honduras, decided to spend the semester in Buenos Aires, Argentina when the program was canceled. “Because it was so late there were limited options because of program dates and visa issues in some countries,” Hathaway said.
The program, designed to run every two years, was similarly canceled in 2010 because of political unrest. Though the program has been inactive for three years now, Samhat said he would encourage a continuation of the program in the future “under appropriate conditions.”
Ausec, who participated in the 1988 program as a student, emphasized the value of the Honduras experience. “Participants not only get to learn in a classroom, but they put that knowledge into place in a very intense field experience,” she said. “I would say that living and learning in the field with Professor Urban and Professor Schortman was an amazing experience and shaped me as an archaeologist.”
Of the approximately 200 students who have completed the program since its inception, many return from Honduras and complete M.A. or Ph.D. theses in association with Schortman or Urban, the directors of the program. “Participants often present papers on their work at professional anthropological and archaeological meetings where, given their poise and what they have to say, they are frequently mistaken for graduate students,” Schortman said.
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