A group of Miami University students will attend the School of Americas (SOA) Watch Vigil at Fort Benning near Columbus, Ga.
The peaceful protest is a national event being held Nov. 19 to 21. It is aimed at closing the SOA, according to senior Lauren Lancaster, community activist coordinator for the Miami Social Action Center.
The SOA, now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), is a U.S. Department of Defense facility that trains Latin American soldiers in counterinsurgency and human rights.
According to the SOA Watch website, those who attend the vigil believe human rights taught at WHINSEC are not up to par, referencing several war crimes and human rights violations committed by SOA graduates.
“Graduates have committed human rights crimes ranging from drug trafficking to torture,” Lancaster said.
While most of the students attending the vigil oppose the SOA, others say the event is “un-American,” said Lancaster, who experienced negative reactions from peers regarding the trip.
“People view it as if you’re anti-SOA, you’re anti-military, which I’m definitely not, my family is in the military,” Lancaster said. “I think you can be patriotic while criticizing your country.”
Lancaster attended the vigil last year and said it was a particularly moving experience. The last time Lancaster visited Fort Benning was for her brother’s graduation from the military.
“I think there are negative sides to this (because) it is a contentious issue to be on a military base,” Lancaster said. “It’s hard to separate in a person’s mind that they are on a military base protesting an action of the military.”
For those who attended the event in the past, the experience was life changing.
Miami junior Ben Rodabaugh said the SOA Watch Vigil was eye opening.
“It brought to light issues with the United States and Latin America that I hadn’t really learned about before,” Rodabaugh said.
This year marks the third time the Social Action Center has participated in the vigil, but there will be a smaller group than in the past, with around 12 students signed up thus far, Lancaster said.
The SOA Watch Vigil brings together several social justice groups, providing many educational events throughout the weekend, Rodabaugh said.
The trip will cost students no more than $50 and is joint funded by several programs, including the Women’s Center, the Wilkes Leadership Institute, the Western Program and the Office of Community Engagement and Service, Lancaster said.
For more information about the trip or SOA Watch, visit www.soaw.org or the Social Action Center located in the Hanna House.