Reflections From Chile

UH Hilo Political Science Professor Lee shares experiences from her summer abroad

Staff Writer Rosannah Gosser
Photos courtesy of Dr. Su-Mi Lee

Dr Su-Mi Lee in Santiago This past summer, Dr. Su-Mi Lee of UH Hilo’s Political Science Department spent a month in Chile as part of the Fulbright-Hays Seminar Abroad Program. Designed to promote understanding of the social sciences and humanities in other countries, the program brings together U.S. educators for a series of seminars and tours. From June to July, Dr. Lee attended seminars in Santiago and toured significant sociopolitical sites across Chile, including the Villa Grimaldi and San Pedro de Atacama.

Participants of the Fulbright-Hays Seminar Abroad Program met at the University of Texas at Austin before their departure to South America for an orientation to meet and discuss the themes of the program. The group of professors who took part in the program specialized in various disciplines of the social sciences, such as anthropology, education, psychology, Spanish, business management, and journalism. Lee represented UH Hilo and contributed expertise in political science with a focus on human rights issues.

Chile is currently experiencing social movements calling for education reform to revive free public education. Before the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet from 1973 to 1990, education was free for everyone, but as Pinochet pushed for free market trade, the system was privatized and affordable only for the affluent. Now that Chile is a representative democracy, annual student protests push for free public education once again.

In Santiago, Dr. Lee attended seminars on a range of topics about Chile’s sociopolitics, including Chilean Journalism and Media, Student Movement in Chile, and Chilean International Relations. Lee developed an in-depth understanding of Chilean politics under Pinochet and the human rights violations committed against suspected socialists during his authoritarian regime. Lee describes the emotional shock she felt visiting Villa Grimaldi, a detention center where people suspected of supporting socialism and communism were imprisoned, tortured, and executed, while government officials threw lavish poolside parties.

During his regime, Pinochet aimed to obstruct research and development in the social sciences to curb the spread of left-wing ideologies, although it is debated to what extent he was able to achieve this. Many official universities and public institutions had their social sciences divisions, such as journalism, eliminated, and people were forced to conduct research at private centers, sometimes in secret. Many influential, progressive-thinking people chose to leave the country out of fear that they would be sent to detention centers like Villa Grimaldi.

Dr Su-Mi Lee with a crowd of people in Valpariso, Chile

The Fulbright-Hays Seminar Abroad Program is run by the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. State Department for maintaining relationships with other countries.

Dr. Lee hopes that by sharing the knowledge and experiences she gained while visiting Chile, people can learn the importance of broadening our range of compassion to encompass not just our immediate community but humanity as a whole. “People know that these things are happening around the world, but we still cover our eyes and are reluctant to help,” Lee says. “I want students to be more compassionate about what is happening to others because we’re all in this together.”