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Trip Overview:

A long history of U.S. policies have negatively affected the economy and health of the people of Puerto Rico: trade policies which increase shipping costs to prohibitive levels, making the cost of living in San Juan comparable to cities like Miami and Atlanta; utilizing the islands of Puerto Rico as a bombing range for the U.S. Navy; having no right to vote and no representation in Congress certainly shuts their voice out of conversations and decisions that affect them deeply. Today, the U.S. territory finds itself with an unsolvable debt crisis ($72 billion) and 41% of its people living below the poverty line. The devastating hurricane season of 2017 added significantly more challenges to the people of Puerto Rico.

As Puerto Rico’s status as a territory with no representation in Congress is a factor in these challenges, the debate over status has become more urgent. There have been two status referendum votes in recent years, giving Puerto Ricans the chance to voice their preference for statehood, maintaining territory status, or seeking independence from the U.S. Both of these referenda have had their controversies, with 97% voting for statehood in 2017, but that vote being tarnished by boycotts and a very low turnout (22%).

This immersion project will allow participants to meet with university professors, students, and political parties to hear the many perspectives of the debate over statehood and independence. They will visit communities and learn about innovative ways Puerto Ricans are pulling together to confront the economic challenges faced by the island. There will be a day trip to the island of Vieques, which the U.S. Navy used as a testing ground for munitions for decades. Throughout the trip, participants will immerse themselves in the culture and history of Puerto Rico, learning from its people, and coming to a better understanding of the challenges they face.

Project Leader:

My name is Ian Murren, and I was born in New Jersey but have lived in Maryland since 2010. I got my Eagle Scout in 2016; I mention this because it’s an important part of my character. At school I participate in a lot of club activities and I have a radio show. By far the most important thing I do outside of school is ROTC. ROTC pays for my schooling and has obligated me to serve in the Army for 6-8 years after college. As a philosophy and PoliSci dual major I really believe in trying to follow the intent of the task rather than the literal wording of it. My biggest pet peeve is making excuses because excuses do not solve problems. I am a firm believer in asking the people around you for help to find a solution to the problem at hand. I am more cooperative by nature and willing to be honest with people. The am excited to be leading the Immersion Project to Puerto Rico. I wanted to go there because I went once with my band back in high school and absolutely loved the island. When Hurricanes Irma and Maria hit I really wanted to go back there. I thought it was important to go because it is somewhere not of a lot of Americans go to or understand even though it is part of our country. Puerto Rico’s territorial status is a remnant of an older America that is just starting to come to grips with the new era. I’m excited to start meeting everyone and working with you soon.