Gate Faculty Profile: Guillermina Seri

Jess Mawhirt

Visiting Assistant Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies (PCON) Guillermina Seri has taught at Colgate since 2005. A native of Argentina, Seri brings a different perspective to the department and her courses.

“Despite the present [Argentinian] government’s deep commitment to human rights, there are more and more cases of death by police,” Seri said. The deaths, she said, are mostly among the young and the poor.

One of the questions Seri has been wrestling with her whole career has been how to understand how authoritarianism and violence can exist in a well-intentioned democratic society. She has tried to answer this question by researching police behavior in democratic societies, and how to place guns in the hands of police officers without putting the general public at risk.

She has done research in South American countries like Argentina and Uruguay, but has encountered some road blocks. While attempting to visit a police academy in Argentina to interview cadets, for example, Seri was turned away, even after receiving permission from the University’s president.

“Police schools are still isolated from the rest of the population,” Seri said. This makes her research even more difficult. What appears to be the answer, Seri has found, is instilling strong feelings of citizenship in officers, to give them “a more democratic understanding of order and a more considerate treatment of others.”

This semester, Seri is teaching three courses in the PCON department. The one she seemed most excited about is a seminar on Human Security. The course attempts to investigate the relationship between human rights and security. Seri is looking for a way for these two elements to coincide.

“Unfortunately,” she said, “There is no recipe for that.”

The course offers some background in twentieth-century conflicts and highlights the positives of nonviolent action. As part of the course, the students play out the scenarios they learn in a computer game developed to teach nonviolence in the political process. Students play the role of activists attempting to overthrow a dictator, but through peaceful means. The options of the game prohibit violent protests or killings, but if the players are not careful, violence can erupt from their plans.

Seri said this game is important because it lacks the violent elements that are emphasized in many other computer games. She admitted, however, that she has never won the game, although two of her students have.

“It is so difficult to win, it can be discouraging at times,” she said, adding that the struggle against violent political change in the real world is just as hard.

Seri explained her philosophy of nonviolent change.

“‘Nonviolent’ is a synonym for ‘political,'” she said. “Isn’t that what ‘political’ means? Acting and speaking together to solve issues?”

While Seri believes there is a lot to learn, she believes that nonviolent political change is possible.

“My utopia,” she said, “would be a place where there are nonviolent police – and it’s doable!”

Colgate will soon be losing Seri to a more permanent position at Union College, where she will continue to pursue her research on policing and democratization. She will leave, however, with fond memories of Colgate.

“I love Colgate,” she said. “The students here are some of the most insightful and brilliant I have experienced and I will miss them.”