Public Policy students explore Spanish policy, law, and life
Differences in public policy planning open students’ eyes to possibilities in U.S.
By Sherrie Voss Matthews, International Media & Marketing Coordinator
Criminal justice students from the College of Public Policy explored not only cultural touchstones, castles and cathedrals while in Spain this past May. They also delved into the public policy differences and similarities that can be found when looking at criminal justice in another country.
“The whole purpose of these trips is to learn if we see something,” Enriquez says. “When you are there, you realize there are strong ties because of the Hispanic history of Texas. For students, it is a way to reconnect with the past, and see a history that they don’t realize is here.”
|Taking a break from studying. Photo by Ibelise Acosta|
The 18 students explored Elche, Alicante, Valencia, and Barcelona. This is the second year that the Maymester program has gone to Spain; it was based at Universidad Miguel Hernandez de Elche.
“The study abroad experience opened my eyes to a new world of different procedures, rules and situations,” says Lucerito Rodriguez. “One of my educational goals was to visit a different country and learn more about the different criminal procedures and the overall culture of that country. Through the trip I learned first-hand about the current economic crisis in Spain and also witnessed the mass protest demonstrations in Barcelona.”
Roger Enriquez, associate professor and chair of the Department of Criminal Justice and Henry Meade, lecturer in the College of Public Policy, and Richard Hartley, associate professor of criminal justice, also traveled with the group.
Roger Enrique says the professional connections allowed students to visit several legal agencies in Elche and Alicante, including the Supreme Court.
“This opportunity allowed me to see the differences between American courtrooms and the Alicante court room,” Rodriguez adds. “In the United States, domestic violence is not tolerated by the majority of people, but from the presentation in the Alicante courtroom, I learned that until recently the issue of domestic violence – against women especially – has gained attention. Women now have more of a voice in the criminal justice system and more programs are being enforced to help them through the emotional and psychological issues they may face.”
While in Spain, the students studied transportation public policy in Spain. They considered the different techniques that Spain uses to influence public policy.
“Spanish traffic safety seems to be very different to the U.S.,” explains Ibelise Acosta. “The driver mentality is far more relaxed and not as concerned about following protocols. I understand that all of us can be apathetic towards our driving standards, but to a U.S. citizen in Spain, the standards are very different.
“However, with that in mind, the country does have a very focused unit that is looking to improve driver behavior. The Research Institute of Traffic and Road Safety is responsible for many studies regarding traffic and driver behavior and their conclusions lead to new traffic laws and regulations.”
Enriquez adds that one typical example was the road safety simulators found in Spanish bars and taverns. These provide a teachable moment for its citizens and show the alcohol effect on driving and how easy it would be to register for a DWI.
Culturally, there are more bars within walking distances to homes, which means people are much less likely to get behind the wheel and drive a vehicle home, he adds.
“We realize that if you try to put a bar in a neighborhood, people can walk home,” he says. “Taxis are inexpensive and readily available, too. You can see the collateral damage that comes about by having a policy.”
The study abroad program gave students a change to explore the different perspectives in international law. While the types of crime might be similar, the United States and Spain deal with criminals and punishment differently, Enriquez explains.
“Although we were in Spain for a short amount, I was given the opportunity to become more aware of foreign policies and court systems,” says Jessica Trevino. “That expanded my knowledge in Spain’s system and also, I learned different methods they have as compared to the methods we have in the U.S.”
The students learned that while both the U.S. and Spain are coping with immigration law and terrorism prevention issues, the two countries use radically different tools.
“The students learned a lot, about tourism and domestic terrorism,” Enriquez adds. “Where we [in the U.S.] rely on high-tech drones, they [Spain] are low-tech. They talk to truckers.”
Terrorism was an eye-opener for students, who realized that not only does Spain have a domestic terrorism issue, but also that it is a small country, where the perpetrators of a crime could be in another, neighboring country within two hours.
Professor Jose E. Medina of the National Police of Elche and professor of criminology also took students on a detailed offered a professional perspective into public policy.
“It is unique for the students because there isn’t that barrier between practice and academics,” Enriquez says. “We’ve benefitted from those ties.”