Meet Sheldon Oppermann, third-year law student and baseball fan.
Oppermann will be among a group of 25 Marquette University Law School students and three faculty members embarking on a six-day trip to Cuba. The group will fly to Miami Saturday and arrive in Havana Sunday. The planned itinerary includes discussions with economists, artists and a former Cuban diplomat and a visit with law faculty at the University of Havana.
There’s also a stop that Oppermann is really looking forward to, the chance to talk baseball with passionate fans who congregate in the “Hot Corner” of Parque Central in Havana.
“I think international travel builds empathy with people,” Oppermann said. “As a future lawyer, I think understanding that there are so many people with circumstances that are not your own helps being a better professional.”
The trip is spearheaded by Marquette law professor Andrea Schneider, who teaches dispute resolution. Schneider has led similar student trips to Israel and Europe.
“Cuba has been a really fascinating subject for dispute resolution for a long time,” Schneider said.
Relations between the United States and Cuba have been thawing since December 2014, when President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced their countries would restore diplomatic ties that had been broken in 1961. The U.S. trade embargo remains in place, although it is getting easier for U.S. citizens to legally travel to Cuba.
The Marquette trip was arranged through the firm Cuba Educational Travel, which organizes “educational exchange programs and people-to-people travel.”
Schneider said she began mulling a trip to Cuba last spring. She found the complexity of the U.S.-Cuba relationship compelling. There was also an urge to see the country before it had completely opened to the United States.
“This is really exploratory,” she said. “There’s not a class connected to it like we have with Israel or Europe. In part, because I don’t know what we’re going to see and I haven’t met these people. We’re putting ourselves in the tour company’s hands, assuming we’ll learn fascinating and interesting things.”
Asked what she expected to hear during a two-hour discussion at the University of Havana, Schneider said, “I don’t know.” She added she hoped to see law students to learn if they have the same stresses as Marquette students.
“I imagine there are going to be some interesting and significant differences,” Schneider said. “That will be part of the fun for our students to really learn about people.”
The point of these trips, she said, is not to hear one single perspective but many, helping students understand people and issues. Such things are important for lawyers who may engage in dispute resolution. Schneider said dispute resolution can be used, whether dealing with a roommate or trying to defuse a larger, public crisis.
Natalie Fleury, the program coordinator for dispute resolution, recalled that her father served in the U.S. Air Force in Florida during the Cuban missile crisis.
“I’m really interested in seeing what Cuba is actually like,” Fleury said. “I’ve heard differing viewpoints, so I’m interested to be there and see what it’s like during this transitional period.”
Molly Madonia, a third-year law student, said she wants to “see an authentic Cuban culture,” that includes the music, the cuisine, even the propaganda billboards that dot Havana.
“Everyone who I have ever spoken to about Cuban culture and their experience there say the people are nice and it’s a welcoming society,” she said.
Bill Glauber, Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel
January 7, 2016