International Studies & Programs

Symposium Speakers

The 2017 CLACS Threads of Hope: Weaving Peace in Colombia symposium speakers represent a variety of disciplines, backgrounds, and experiences.


juana headshot-inline.gifJuana Alicia Ruiz Hernandez, Mujeres Tejiendo Sueños y Sabores de Paz

Born and raised in the region of Montes de María, Juana was victim of forced displacement by paramilitary forces in 2000. After years of wandering around with other community members, they decided to return to the zone in 2006 and settled in Mampuján Nuevo. Gathering women together around a quilting project, Juana encouraged them to express their feelings while sewing their stories into quilts. Through this project, the women have not only achieved emotional healing but also found a way to support their community economically. Since 2010, Juana has been engaged with the preservation of community traditions and customs. She has also played a significant role in efforts to peacefully pressure the government to follow through on promises to provide reparations for their community. Mujeres Tejiendo Sueños y Sabores de Paz (Women Weaving Dreams and Flavors of Peace) received the Colombian National Peace Prize in 2016.

ricardo-esquivia-inline.jpgRicardo Esquivia Ballestas, Sembrandopaz

Founder and director of Sembrandopaz, human rights lawyer and peace activist, Ricardo has dedicated his entire life to working for the benefit of Colombia's most marginalized people. In Bogotá, he also founded Justapaz, the Christian Center for Justice, Peace and Non-Violent Action, and was its director for 13 years. Ricardo has served on the boards of many organizations and has also co-founded human rights networks. While being especially gifted at grassroots organizing, he is also an accomplished speaker, mediator, and teacher. He was instrumental in establishing a master's program in social conflict and peace-building at the University of Cartagena.

rosa.jpgRosa Jiménez Ahumada, University of Cartagena

Rosa Jimenez is the director of the Observatory for Forced Displacement and the academic director for the master's program in social conflict and peace-building at the University of Cartagena.  As a social worker with a master's degree in education, she has worked in community development and peace building processes with vulnerable communities in the Colombian Caribbean Coast.  As a Department of Social Work faculty member, she develops programs focused on communities displaced by the armed conflict.  Additionally, she implements projects to overcome social inequality. 

Alejandro Herrero-Olaizola, University of Michigan

As the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Spanish, Alejandro's research interests include 20th century Latin American Literature, critical theory, comparative literature and cultural studies.  Professor Herrero-Olaizola was a US Fulbright Scholar at the Universidad Javeriana in Bogotá.  His current book project, The Colombian Condition: Global Violence as Cultural Commodity, explores the transnational and inter-cultural forces that resulted in the heterogeneity and fluidity characteristic of today's Latin America.  He is interested in exploring Latin America as a cultural and intellectual space that expands beyond the American continent in response to the diminishment of nation-state powers. In this project, he examines mass-marketed media products that perpetuate the "gritty side" of Latin America for the benefit of the culture industry and worldwide consumption under globalization.

constanza.jpgConstanza López, University of North Florida

Constanza López is an assistant professor of Spanish.  Her book, Trauma, memoria y cuerpo: el testimonio femenino en Colombia-1985-2000 received the the 2011 Association of Feminine Hispanic Literature and Culture award. She is currently working on a manuscript for a book entitled "Gender and Testimonio in Colombian Hip Hop." Her research interests include Latin American Literatures of the 20th and 21st centuries, women writers, autobiography and testimonio, gender and violence, film and documentary, human rights and activism, migrations, and Hispanics in the U.S. 

galia-inline.jpgGalia Benitez, Michigan State University

Galia Benitez is an assistant professor at James Madison College at MSU and has conducted extensive fieldwork in Brazil and Colombia.  Her academic interests include drug trafficking, anti-narcotic policies, the role of the businesses sector, the role of institutions, and country cooperative networks.  She has published, A South American Perspective: Regional versus Global Trade Patterns.

mexico.jpgElvira Sánchez-Blake, Michigan State University

Elvira Sánchez-Blake is an associate professor of Romance and Classical Studies at MSU where she specializes in testimonials and narratives of the Colombian conflict. Her publications include Patria se escribe con sangre (2000), Espiral de silencios (2009), and Latin American Women and the Literature of Madness (2015). After a Fulbright research fellowship in Colombia in 2015, Elvira focused her exploration on women organizations working for peace in Colombia. She currently directs the Revista de Estudios Colombianos