The University of Texas at Austin   School of Law

The Bernard and Audre Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice

Partners for change at the intersection of academics and advocacy.


Afro-Colombian Property Rights


Members of the Delegation

Karen Engle, coordinator of the project, is W.H. Francis, Jr. Professor in Law and Director of the Bernard and Audre Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice at the University of Texas School of Law. Professor Engle writes and lectures extensively on international law, human rights, and employment discrimination. She is currently in Colombia researching the development of indigenous rights advocacy.

Nicki Alam will receive a Masters of Public Affairs, with a concentration in international relations, from the Lyndon B. Johnson School in May 2007. Her undergraduate degree, also from the University of Texas, is in the field of communication theory and public relations. Nicki’s academic research focuses on U.S. foreign diplomacy and African affairs. Most recently, she completed an internship at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, where she worked on East Africa relations. She has had the pleasure of traveling through South America, including trips to Chile and Argentina, but this is her first trip to Colombia.

Alysia Childs obtained her B.A. degree in Spanish from Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia in 1997 before pursuing graduate study in International Development at the Master of Science in Foreign Service Program at Georgetown University, where she received her M.S. degree in 2006. She is currently a first-year doctoral student in the African Diaspora Program of the University of Texas at Austin’s Department of Anthropology. Her interest lies in African-descendant community development within Latin American countries, specifically examining Colombia and the Dominican Republic. Her current research interrogates the intersection of color and class with African-descendant populations comparatively analyzing the aforementioned countries and Washington, D.C.

Joshua Clark is a Master’s degree candidate at the Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies. Originally from Battle Creek, Michigan, he received his B.A. in Political Science from Butler University in Indianapolis. As an undergraduate, he studied abroad in Central America through the Center for Global Education’s Sustainable Development and Social Change program. He has since returned to Nicaragua and El Salvador multiple times, once as an international observer to the 2004 Salvadoran presidential election, and most recently to conduct research for his thesis. Clark’s research examines indigenous-rights organizing in El Salvador and the state’s reluctant engagement with multiculturalism and recognition of indigenous peoples. More broadly, Clark’s studies question how the concept of “indigeneity” is defined and represented in the discourses of states, of social movements, and in international law.

Robert Davenport has a bachelor's degree in Social Anthropology. He is now studying for a Master of Arts degree in Latin American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, focusing on anthropology, human rights, social development, and environmental issues. Before coming to the University of Texas, Mr. Davenport worked as a cameraperson, producer and editor for various media outlets and organizations, including New York Times Television. Currently, he is producing a film about social conflict and youth gangs in Guatemala, corresponding with his interest in social advocacy for youth and the prevention of violence in that country.

Paul Sebastian Di Blasi grew up in San Antonio, Texas, and received a B.A. in English and Political Science from Williams College. After college, he worked several jobs, including Voter Registration Project Coordinator for Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project and Math GED Instructor in Spanish. Last summer he clerked at the South Texas office of the Texas Civil Rights Project where he aided in disabilities litigation against discriminatory government entities. Paul has just finished his third semester at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law. He is active in aiding Professors Jinks and Sullivan in litigation regarding the Military Commission Act and the Torture Victim Protection Act.

Sylvia Romo received her B.A. in Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of California, Berkeley in 1999. While attending Berkeley, Romo became involved in human rights solidarity work with the Zapatista indigenous movement of Chiapas, Mexico. She has collaborated in the construction of the Zapatista Autonomous Education System since 1997, including volunteering for two years to train indigenous teachers at the first secondary school. In 2000, Romo joined the Center for Justice and Accountability in San Francisco as a paralegal and research assistant. There, her research contributed to precedent-setting civil suits against those responsible for torture in Chile, Honduras, Haiti and El Salvador. Romo is currently in her last semester as the Donald D. Harrington Master’s Fellow at the University of Texas at Austin’s Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies, where she is focusing on theories of democratic participation and indigenous autonomous governance.

Amber VanSchuyver is a second-year law student at the University of Texas and has a long-standing interest in human rights issues, especially concerning Latin America. She graduated from the University of Kansas with a B.A. in Spanish, Latin American Studies and Political Science. As an undergraduate, she completed research on women’s groups combating violence in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Last summer, she was an intern at Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, where she helped to provide civil legal services to low-income individuals. She has also interned at the Equal Justice Center to assist immigrant workers get paid for the work that they have completed. After graduation, she plans to work in Texas to provide legal representation to low-income individuals.

Kendall Zanowiak is the Coordinator for the Family-based Immigration Program at the Political Asylum Project of Austin. She graduated with a B.S. from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in 2004 with a degree in Culture and Politics and a minor in Justice and Peace Studies. Her undergraduate thesis evaluated the work of truth commissions in Latin America as a form of testimony and compared them to other cultural expressions of testimony resulting from state-sponsored terrorism. After graduation, Zanowiak worked as a Research Associate for the Guatemala Human Rights Commission and interned at the Organization of American States in the Conflict Resolution Special Program. She plans to graduate with an M.A. from The University of Texas Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies in May 2007. Zanowiak’s current research focuses on Latino immigrant claims to space within the nation-state.

Assisting with the Coordination of the Project in Austin and Bogotá

Sarah Cline has worked as the Administrator of the Bernard and Audre Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice since July 2006. Ms. Cline received her M.A. in International Relations from Baylor University and her B.A. cum laude in International Relations and Sociology from Webster University in Geneva, Switzerland. Prior to joining the Rapoport Center, Ms. Cline worked for various intergovernmental and nongovernmental human rights organizations, including the United Nations Human Rights Committee and World Vision International in Geneva, and The Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia.

Elise Harriger received her B.A. in Plan II Honors from The University of Texas at Austin in 2003. Upon graduation, she studied theology at the graduate level at The University of Oxford, Linacre College and received a Post-Graduate Diploma. Her exposure to liberation theology and social justice issues led her to serve Latino immigrants at Casa Marianella, a local Austin non-profit emergency shelter. This past summer she interned as a Rapoport Summer Fellow at the Program to Abolish the Death Penalty at Amnesty International’s Washington D.C. office. Currently, Elise Harriger is a Human Rights Scholar at the Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice at the University of Texas Law School.

Rachel Lopez received her B.A. in Political Science, Sociology, and International Studies from Northwestern University in 2003. She studied European Union Studies abroad at the Sciences-Po in Paris, France. While at Northwestern, she served as student body president, establishing the Eva Jefferson Civil Rights Program, the first annual Community Action Fair, and the Alumni Speaker Series. She also successfully lobbied for a Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Support Center and a Latino studies program. As a Bill Emerson Fellow with the Congressional Hunger Center, Lopez later worked on food stamp access in California and then in Washington, D.C. on policies and practices to strengthen micro-enterprise in indigenous communities. The following year she was awarded a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship to study human and indigenous rights in Guatemala. This past summer she worked as a Rapoport Summer Fellow in the Rapporteurship for indigenous rights at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. She is the coordinator for the Human Rights Law Society at the University of Texas Law School. Currently, Lopez is a Human Rights Scholar at the Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice at the Law School, where she works on increasing opportunities for students to do human rights work and identifying and expanding the human rights curriculum across campus.

Fernando Serrano received his undergraduate degree in Anthropology from the National University of Colombia and his Master’s degree in Conflict Resolution at the University of Bradford, UK. He has worked both as an academic and an activist on issues of gender, sexuality, cultural identity and the construction of peace. In particular, he has focused on the recognition of the rights of Afro-Colombians, urban youth and sexual minorities. He has worked as a university researcher and as a consultant with national and international non-governmental organizations and agencies.

Elizabeth Walsh received her BA in History and Ethnic Studies at Brown University. She then worked as assistant director of Posada Esperanza, a residential service for immigrant women in Austin, Texas. She is currently living in Bogotá, Colombia, where she is researching the effects of armed conflict and forced displacement on Afro-Colombian communities from the Pacific, a project that she initially began as a Fulbright Scholar. She also works as a volunteer for AFRODES, a non-governmental community organization in Bogotá.

Learn more about the 2007 spring break project and read the report produced by our interdisciplinary delegation and the memorandum sent to Congress.