People of SU

In Solidarity

Written by Tina Potterf

November 27, 2023

Photo in front of UCA in Managua in 2018
Students protest in front of the UCA in Managua, Nicaragua, in 2018.

In partnership with the other Jesuit universities and colleges in the U.S., Seattle University is raising funds to support UCA students.  

Last August when the Nicaraguan government seized control of Seattle University’s Jesuit university partner, the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA) in Managua, Nicaragua—one of three Jesuit universities in Central America and one of Nicaragua’s most prestigious higher ed institutions—they left the roughly 5,000 students enrolled at the time wondering if and how they could complete their studies. 

The government’s seizure of the university is the culmination of a series of attacks on academic freedom, political opponents, the Catholic clergy and democracy that started in the early 2000s and worsened in 2018 with country-wide protests against President Ortega’s policies. 

Many college students, including from the UCA, participated in the protests and the university itself called on the government to listen to protesters and respect rule of law and human rights. In May of 2018, police and paramilitaries shot into crowds of protesters and many sought refuge on the UCA campus. The UCA’s then-president José (“Father Chepe”) Idiáquez, S.J, opened the gates of the university to the demonstrators. Acts like these, along with Fr. Chepe’s calls to the government to enter into dialogue with the protesters, led the government to declare the university “a center for terrorism.” In addition to refusing to allow Fr. Chepe to return to the country after a visit to Mexico, the government continued to harass the UCA with a police cordon and threats. And with the full seizure in August, the university’s bank accounts and academic records were frozen and the government had full control of the university and its Jesuit residence. From one day to the next, UCA students lost their hopes of receiving a college degree and others lost their livelihoods entirely.

About 2,000 former UCA students have applied to study at Jesuit universities in El Salvador and Guatemala and a campaign spearheaded by the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU) with all 27 Jesuit universities and colleges in the U.S.—with Seattle University at the forefront—aims to raise funds for scholarships for these UCA in Exile students. The #TodosSomosUCA ("We Are All UCA") campaign runs through December 31.

“AJCU and President Peñalver endorsed our commitment to be a leading school nationwide on this effort” to support these students, says Joe Orlando, EdD, special assistant to the provost, who oversees the Central America Initiative, which is comprised of twinning relationships with the three Jesuit universities of Central America. The UCA in Managua was the first university partner for the Central America Initiative, which started at SU in 2014. In addition to the UCA, the Central America Initiative includes the Universidad Centroamericana “José Simeon Cañas” in El Salvador and the Universidad Rafael Landívar in Guatemala. 

SU’s involvement in this fundraising campaign is not only because of our deep ties to Central America and our Jesuit provinces in these countries but also because of the solidarity and trust with the people of Nicaragua built over many years, says Orlando.

“For us to stand with our brothers and sisters in Nicaragua is so important. It’s personal because I’ve come to know these friends and colleagues and this is the Jesuit educational family we are all a part of,” he says. “We stand together.” 

Associate Professor Serena Cosgrove, PhD, who is the faculty coordinator of the Central America Initiative and director of the Latin American and Latinx Studies program in the College of Arts and Sciences, says this campaign provides more than just financial support for these exiled students—it offers hope, a feeling of security and stability in a time of tumult. 

“Students from the UCA in Managua have experienced so much disruption over the past months,” says Cosgrove, “not only has their university been closed but also many students have had to leave Nicaragua because of fears for their own safety and security given the human rights record of the government. … It is very important that we do everything in our power to support the UCA in Exile students because there is so much that connects us and our support means so much to students who have lost their university.”

For Orlando who, like Cosgrove, has deep roots working with the people of Central America, this campaign speaks to Seattle University’s mission and what it means to be part of a global Jesuit network. 

“It’s powerful, meaningful and profound,” Orlando says. “It’s been inspiring for me to be in this global family.”

Learn more about the Todos Somos UCA campaign and visit Todos Somos UCA Donation to make a gift.