For Immediate Release—Thursday, March 22, 2007


Mary E. McCrank

Media Relations Officer

(585) 245-5516

Maria Varela to Speak at SUNY Geneseo April 2

GENESEO, N.Y.—Maria Varela, a visiting faculty member in the southwest studies department at Colorado College and MacArthur Fellowship award winner, will present a lecture titled "The 1960s Civil Rights Movement: My Legacy and Yours" at the State University of New York at Geneseo. The lecture takes place 7 p.m. Monday, April 2, in the MacVittie College Union Ballroom and is free and open to the public.

Varela has been involved in community organizing since 1962, when she joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. After working with SNCC to teach leadership and literacy to African-Americans in Alabama and Mississippi, in 1967 Varela moved to New Mexico in response to a request from the leadership of the Hispano land rights movement. Varela spent the next 35 years organizing rural communities in New Mexico and the southwest with a goal of making the communities economically and culturally vibrant. 

Today, Varela is an internationally recognized authority on rural development. In 1990, she was awarded the MacArthur Fellowship, which is a $500,000 stipend given to enable its recipients to "exercise their own creative instincts for the benefit of human society." Varela is the first Latina woman to document the civil rights struggle in the black belt south. Her work has been featured in books and photo exhibits in galleries and museums, including the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.

"Varela will be talking about her activism in SNCC and the work she has done since as a community organizer," says Emilye Crosby, associate professor of history at Geneseo. 

"Varela became involved in the civil rights movement when she was about the same age as most Geneseo students," says Crosby. "She brings with her an extremely important perspective and valuable information that students will be able to learn from and use in their lives."

Students at Geneseo are looking forward to Varela's lecture. "I think her visit comes at a perfect time when students are really waking up to the fact of injustices around the world and even around our own Geneseo campus," says Chris Basso, a senior history major from Slate Hill, N.Y.

The lecture is part of Geneseo's semester-long commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. and is sponsored by the Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Committee and the Office of the Provost.


Written by Joe Mignano, public relations intern in the Office of Communications and Publications.