Editor’s note, March 21: UNH Dean Neil Vroman’s response to this article has been added at the end.
After leading more than a 150 university students on a dozen service projects to Nicaragua, University of New Hampshire (UNH) professor Pamela Broido says her study abroad trip was “rockin’ and rollin’.”
Students raved that the two-week trip to Nicaragua was “life-changing.” And the tropical-latitude health issues—diarrhea, breathing difficulties from inhaling volcanic gasses, and a scorpion bite—were never serious enough to dampen students’ enthusiasm for the land of lakes and volcanoes.
“The students loved it,” Broido says of her course. “This is a real-deal trip.”
But for university administrators, Nicaragua was little too real-deal. In February, Broido and her students were informed that the dean’s office had permanently canceled the Nicaragua trip due to concerns over health, safety and liability issues. That decision was particularly disappointing to the students currently enrolled in the course who were already preparing their trip to Nicaragua in June.
“This decision is based on judgments you made in a previous study away trip around emergency medical procedures which put you, participating students, and the institution at unacceptable risk,” Dean Neil Vroman wrote to professor Broido in an email.
Broido says that’s nonsense, because no emergency medical procedures were ever performed during previous trips to Nicaragua. She says the dean is referring to her efforts to fashion a Nicaraguan first aid kit equipped with an inhaler and EpiPen in the event she needed to respond to future encounters with volcanic gasses or ill-tempered scorpions. Although Broido says she is CPR certified and first-aid trained, the university administrators didn’t appreciate her home-nursing instincts.
Broido admits it was an oversight on her part not to get university approval for her first aid kit before lugging it to Nicaragua last January. But she claims UNH has “no clear protocols to follow when making decisions regarding student safety specific to first aid kits.” Plus, she says, the first aid kit was never used.
Broido suggested to the dean’s office that the incident serve as an opportunity for the university to implement clear first-aid protocols for its study abroad programs. But UNH administrators were unmoved. In addition to canceling the Nicaragua trip, the dean’s office informed Broido that her non-tenured job at the university will not be renewed next year.
The Nicaragua Dispatch tried to contact Dean Vroman, but was told he was out of the office until March 18. The dean did not answer his email and no one else in his office would address the issue. UNH’s director of study abroad programs didn’t return requests for comment.
“International Service Learning in Nicaragua” was a four-credit course that concluded its semester of classroom learning with a two-week field trip to Nicaragua, organized under the auspices of Compas de Nicaragua, a New Hampshire non-profit group involved with sustainable development outreach.
Broido, a specialist in American Sign Language, led the semiannual trip since 2006. The students divided their time by working one week on a sustainable farming project in La Paz, León and another week doing a homestay in Managua, where they volunteered with a women’s health and education program and experienced “cross-cultural communication” with the Melania Morales school for the deaf in San Judas, Managua. They also did a bit of sight-seeing and tourism activities during their two-week stay.
For many of participating UNH students, the Nicaragua trip provided a first contact with Latin America and the developing world. Many said it was a life-changing experience; several of Broido’s students returned to Nicaragua after graduation to volunteer on their own time.
“Having never traveled to a third world country, the best way to describe my experience is that it was exciting, scary, thrilling, exhausting, rewarding, amazing, and eye-opening all at the same time… I came back from Nicaragua a changed person—changed for the better,” says Tarin Nassaney, a fifth year at UNH who is majoring in Nutrition and Wellness.
Nassaney, who was part of last year’s Nicaragua trip, says she is confused and upset that her university would cancel the trip for future classes. “I can’t help but to tear up at the thought that something so meaningful and important to me is no longer available to others,” she told The Nicaragua Dispatch in an email.
“The people of Nicaragua changed my life forever, and I honestly learned more during my two weeks abroad than I have in any classroom at UNH,” echoes Zac Porter, a dual major in Tourism Planning & Development and International Affairs. Porter, a senior at UNH, went on the Nicaragua trip last year and is now a teaching assistant for the Nicaragua course this semester.
“When I heard our trip for this June was canceled, I was absolutely devastated,” Porter adds. “(UNH) authorities involved clearly do not understand or appreciate what this class has to offer to UNH students, as well as people in serious need of the developing world.”
Broido said part of the problem is that university administrators are ignorant about Nicaragua and were unsupportive of the trip even prior to the first-aid kit incident.
“They all thought that I am crazy to do this; to go to a third-world country,” she told The Nicaragua Dispatch in an interview. “There was almost zero support. We professors are left to create our own trips with essentially no support from the university. It’s pathetic.”
Nicaragua or bust
If anything, the dean’s decision to cancel the university’s trip to Nicaragua seems to have made UNH students more determined to go. Shortly after receiving the bad news from the UNH administrators, the Broido’s class decided to circumvent the university and organize the trip on their own. “Coincidentally,” Broido says, she is planning to be on the same flight to Nicaragua. “I’ll just happen to be on the same trip,” she says.
Students say part of their decision to take the trip, even without the university credits, is because they feel UNH has been less than forthcoming about the whole incident.
“There is no more health risk here than on any other study abroad that the school offers. Maybe had the university taken the time to get involved in the matter and look for student feedback they would realize the intangible benefits of a program like this,” says Danielle Olean, a senior Communications and International Affairs Major who is going on the trip in June. “It saddens me to see the university make such a rash decision on something that has so much value, but it shows me that they don’t care about our learning experience.”
Olean says she and her mom perused all the information about the program and reviewed the website of Compas de Nicaragua. They decided the trip “does in fact have all the necessary health and security procedures in place.” Olean says she is going to Nicaragua because she is doesn’t want UNH’s decision to “ruin my chances to grow personally.”
“Not a single student dropped the class,” Broido says proudly.
Though the 57-year-old professor says she is “a little sad” at the thought that this will most likely be the last trip she leads to Nicaragua and that the program she started here “will collapse” next year, she says getting let go by UNH will give her even more time to get involved in social justice issues in Nicaragua and other countries in the future.
“They just gave me my ticket to freedom,” she says.
Editor: UNH Dean Neil Vroman sent The Nicaragua Dispatch the following response to this article on March 21:
“The decision to cancel the trip was made after extensive internal deliberations and a lengthy conversation with Professor Broido. We determined that there was uncertainty as to whether the program would satisfy our expectations for student safety. The decision had nothing to do with Nicaragua as a location for our international programs, and we are continuing to assess how the program might be offered again for future academic terms.
“UNH is committed to offering international learning experiences that are safe and meet best practices in the field, which is an ongoing process. Over the last several years, UNH has increased its services and support for faculty-led study abroad programs from the development phase through to program implementation, and regularly reviews its policies and procedures.”