Casa de la Mateada (CASA), a study abroad program in Córdoba, Argentina, was canceled for the fall semester.
The cancellation means the 12 students from LMU, Saint Louis University and College of the Holy Cross, as well as the two alumni leaders signed up for the program, will no longer spend their fall semester abroad in Argentina. The program will also not be open to students in the future.
The students were informed in an email by Study Abroad Advisor Pamela Underwood that the University had canceled the program. The email stated that the “proper infrastructure” of the program didn’t meet standards of “providing students with a safe and high-quality study abroad experience.”
The program was supposed to begin on Aug. 10. The email came on Thursday July 18, three weeks before the group was supposed to depart. This left students unregistered for classes and without housing just weeks before the semester began.
“It was hard finding the classes that I needed,” said Naila Vasquez, a sophomore psychology major and CASA student. "Some [classes] I got in the day before school started.”
The CASA students for the fall semester sent a letter to LMU administration with a list of requests following the cancellation, according to John Lopez, a senior computer science major and CASA student. The requests focused on full financial reimbursement, including scholarship money, fees and no additional housing costs beyond what the students had already budgeted for Argentina.
In a statement to the Loyolan, Roberta Espinoza, the vice provost for global-local initiatives, wrote that the Study Abroad Office has been working with the students to provide them with help to meet their individual needs.
However, the only reimbursement the students received was for their plane ticket, according to Lopez. Lopez said that he received a scholarship to study in Argentina, but now will not get any of that money, as he cannot study abroad in the future due to his status as a senior.
The CASA program has been in effect for six years. Students took classes at La Universidad Católica de Córdoba and practiced CASA's mission of community, accompaniment, spirituality and academics, according to Mary Schell, a CASA alumna from 2018, who was hired as a community coordinator for the fall 2019 semester.
The program, according to its students, was a deeply meaningful and transformative experience. “CASA was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life, but it was also one of the most beautiful and rewarding,” said Schell.
In 2015, the program was suspended for the fall semester due to the “economic stability in Argentina,” as previously reported by the Loyolan.
Espinoza’s statement cited “financial sustainability, student safety and the current and ongoing volatility of Argentina’s economy” as reasoning for the closure.
CASA was difficult to run due to the distance and differing intercultural needs of the two schools, according to Douglas Christie, the chair of Theological Studies and founding CASA faculty director.
In early 2019, the Provost’s office implemented new conditions regarding CASA, including reducing it to a one-semester program, according to Christie. These conditions, Christie said, “doomed the program.”
In the spring, CASA director and LMU alumna Vivian Valencia was laid off after she had recruited a full cohort of students for the fall. A new director was never hired, according to Valencia.
The decision to close the program was made by LMU administration, with minimal communication with CASA faculty both at LMU and in Argentina, according to Christie.
“The people who knew the most about resolving issues, because we had been doing it for many years, weren’t at the table,” said Christie.
Rubén Martínez, an English professor and CASA faculty director in 2017, described the cancelation as a “betrayal.”
“I have not had a more profound experience of LMU’s mission than what I participated in [in] Córdoba through the CASA program. That is LMU’s mission. The fact that the program was cut, I think, was a betrayal of our mission,” said Martínez. He went on to say there was no transparency from the Provost’s office when the decision was made.
“We may never know the real reason why the program was suspended ... I’m not sure what political game is being played, but that’s not the way a university like ours is supposed to run,” said Martínez.
Martínez also stressed that due to the ongoing economic and sociopolitical issues between the United States and South America, LMU should be growing programs in Latin America, rather than cutting them.
CASA’s closure has left a hole in the communities that were a part of the program in Córdoba.
“The biggest hurt has been to the communities. It has been devastating,” said Valencia. “[The communities] have opened up their homes and their hearts to us, and we leave on our own terms? ... Regardless of our contributions or collaborations, that here, in Latin America, sends a bigger message.”
The closure also means that those working in Argentina for the program are now out of a job. This was a “huge blow” for the faculty, due to Argentina’s unstable economy, according to Martínez.
Since the cancellation, 30 CASA alumni have written letters to the Provost regarding their positive experiences with the program, according to Christie. They hope to get the program running again.
“How do we advocate for it back?” asked Lopez. “Because it sucks that my group couldn’t go, but I still want this program to be around for the future.”