Educational Mexico trip canceled

Western Carolina University’s Center for Service Learning has canceled a spring break trip to Monterrey in light of a recent warning issued by the U.S. Department of State cautioning against travel to portions of northern Mexico.

The travel warning is the result of concerns about a recent surge in drug-related violence, including the deaths of three people connected with a U.S. consulate office in Mexico over the weekend.

Five WCU students and a staff member had planned to take the trip to Monterrey on Sunday, March 28, and return Sunday, April 4. They were scheduled to do volunteer work with two social service agencies, listen to a lecture on the contributions of Josefina Niggli and go on a cultural tour of the city.

“The safety of our students is paramount,” said Glenn Bowen, director of the Center for Service Learning. “Although we understand that much of Mexico remains safe for visitors, our arrangements did not give us the assurance that our group would not be at risk while traveling in and around the city. The authorized departure of the dependents of U.S. government personnel from the U.S. consulate in Monterrey until April 12 was one of the factors we considered.”

The trip was to be part of a yearlong observation at WCU examining the impact of Niggli, a poet, playwright, novelist and screenwriter, born 100 years ago in Mexico and who taught journalism and drama at Western Carolina. Other Niggli events will continue as scheduled.

One WCU student who is currently studying in Monterrey through the University of North Carolina Exchange Program will remain in Mexico for the time being, said Lois Petrovich-Mwaniki, director of international programs and services.

“We consider whether to cancel a group-travel or study-abroad experience based on the conditions on the ground, the resources in place to assist the travelers, and the report from university personnel or third-party providers in-country,” Petrovich-Mwaniki said.

“In this case, too many questions were left unanswered for the service learning group. Our study abroad student currently has a number of resources available to her and is in a gated university setting that is well protected. We are in touch with the program directors in Monterrey and at UNC EP and are monitoring the situation,” she said.

Although the trip to Monterrey has been canceled, WCU’s Center for Service Learning will go ahead with plans for a local spring break trip to Norfolk, Va. In Norfolk, WCU volunteers will support efforts to provide social and educational activities for at-risk youth at a summer camp.

They also will work on a Habitat for Humanity project designed to provide a low-income family with affordable housing, as well as a project with the Food Bank of Southeastern Virginia to relieve hunger in the local community. The group will include at least 10 students and three staff members.