CMC grad earns Fulbright to continue human rights research |

CMC grad earns Fulbright to continue human rights research

Suzie Romig
Colorado Mountain College
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Submitted photo

Sitting in an open-air cafe not far from a southern Mexico beach on a warm March day, Noelle Brigden seems like any other happy visitor.

But even via the long-distance video connection, Brigden’s deep concern and commitment to her doctoral dissertation research in human rights violations of migrants is readily apparent.

“I study violence against unauthorized Central American migrants traveling to the United States,” said Brigden, a Colorado Mountain College and University of Denver graduate who is working on her Ph.D. at Cornell University. “There is a humanitarian crisis unfolding in Mexico, and unauthorized migrants have been systematically targeted for kidnapping by criminal groups.”

In a previous year of field research in El Salvador, and now during her Fulbright grant-funded research in Mexico, Brigden has gained direct insights into the intensifying criminal violence against migrants. She volunteers every other week in a migrant shelter, a seven-hour bus ride from the home she shares with her son and husband, and gathers migrant stories for her thesis.

Brigden said migrants from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, who are traveling to join or rejoin family in the United States, can be kidnapped and then tortured for phone numbers of relatives who could pay ransom.

“The National Commission for Human Rights in Mexico estimates that more than 11,000 migrants were kidnapped in a six-month period during 2010,” Brigden noted. “It is time for policies that aggressively protect the people who travel these routes.”

She explained that Central American migrants face increasing violence along clandestine routes through Mexico, including kidnappings, forced prostitution and armed robberies committed by both organized and opportunist criminals as well as extortion, assault, dangerous abandonment or sexual assault committed by smugglers.

Brigden, now 33, said she was inspired to study such international issues when she was a student at Colorado Mountain College in Steamboat Springs. She said her Spanish teachers used films, songs and stories to teach students about the culture of Latin America along with the language.

“CMC inspired my interest in doing doctoral work to begin with and my desire to continue to learn about the world and what’s happening in it,” Brigden said. “I want to teach college-level classes and be able to provide that kind of enthusiasm that my professors at CMC gave me.”

After graduating with an associate degree from Colorado Mountain College in 2001, Brigden earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from the University of Denver. In 2009, she earned a master’s degree in government from Cornell in New York. Through the Cornell Prison Education Program she developed and taught college courses on international relations. She will return to Cornell this fall with a teaching fellowship to instruct on such topics as drug wars, and pirates and political order.

A former high school freshman dropout in California and an Army veteran who served in Bosnia, Brigden said she wants to encourage people not to be afraid to go to college. She also wants to promote the Fulbright international exchange programs that help people learn about the world.

She has watched her world turn full circle, from discovering her love for international studies at Colorado Mountain College to seeing her son discover learning in international settings and schools in El Salvador and Mexico.

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