New Program Director looks to engage students at KI

September 28, 2018

While freshmen moved into their dorms, wrapped up NSO, and started classes, someone else was also settling into campus —Juan Belmán Guerrero, the new program director for the Georgetown University Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor.

“[The biggest challenge] has been just remembering everyone’s name, all the different departments we work with, and the different organizations here on campus and out in the city,” Belmán said. “My colleagues have been wonderful and very supportive in my transition here.”

The Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor, or KI for short, is Georgetown’s arm for engaging with issues relating
to workers’ rights and labor movements. Since 2009, the center has undertaken political and economic projects from a working class perspective, a position in keeping with the Jesuit, and more broadly Catholic, tradition of engagement with the labor movement.

As program manager, Belmán’s primary responsibility is engaging with students and helping them get involved with projects affiliated with the KI and its mission to advocate for workers and economic justice.

“[Program manager] is our most student-interactive position,” said Joseph McCartin, director of the KI. “It’s key for the person who does that work to be able to interact well with a wide range of students.”

The student-oriented nature of Belmán’s position was reflected in the hiring process. In a first for the KI, students who had participated in its programs consulted the staff, interviewing the finalists for the position and giving their approving the decision to hire Belmán.

“They loved our candidates that they met, and it confirmed our good feeling about Juan,” McCartin said. “He underwent an experience at college that we find a lot of students who get involved in our work undergo. He didn’t go to college thinking he wanted to get involved in issues like worker rights, but it was while there that he became exposed to it, and started to think differently about his future. Having gone through that experience himself, he’s really able to reach out to a whole range of students.”

Belmán started work on Aug. 13, replacing former program manager Nick Wertsch (LAW ’18), who departed in May following his graduation from the Georgetown University Law Center. Belmán was a first-generation DACAmented college student at the University of Texas, Austin. After graduating, he stayed in Austin and worked for the Workers Defense Project, where he advised providers of legal services for immigrants, helping them coordinate with each other so they were better able to refer clients and collaborate on cases.

“Because of my experience with immigrant rights in Texas, I hope that I can support students and introduce them to that kind of work,” Belmán said. “Here at KI we focus on labor, so I hope I can bring some experience about the intersection of labor and immigrant rights.”

McCartin said Belmán’s unique experience will help guide students address this field. “More and more we are trying to engage with the issues of immigration, which are very alive right now in our society and overlap and impinge with the issues of workers’ rights in profound ways,” he said.

Projects undertaken by the KI include the Labor Capital Strategies Fellowship, which matches students with internships at progressive investment firms; the Worker Justice D.C. Alternative Break Program, where students spend spring break working on labor issues in Washington; and the Just Employment Policy Project, which advocates for the adoption of progressive employment policies at Catholic and Jesuit colleges across the country.

Belmán is eager to set students up to work on those projects, or any others that might interest them. He hopes that students won’t hesitate to reach out to him if they’re interested in learning about or getting involved with the KI, or labor issues in D.C. in general.

“If students want to be connected to any social issues, specifically around labor rights and immigrant rights, please contact me,” Belmán said. “We can get coffee and we can see how we can connect them to the work going on here.”

Belmán also has a personal connection to the Georgetown student body: His younger brother, Mizraim Belmán Guerrero (SFS ’20), is a junior. The two have been half a country away from each other for the two years since Mizraim started Georgetown, and his older brother is excited to be close again.

“Being able to be here and support him in any way I can has been really helpful for me, and I hope for him as well,” Belmán said.

Much of Belmán’s first month has been spent getting up to speed at the university and in a new city. As he gets settled in, Belmán looks forward to working directly with students.

“Everyone I’ve met has been so wonderful and passionate about the work they’re doing,” he said. “Whatever I end up working on, that work is led by students, and my job is really to support the students.”


Alex Lewontin
Award-winning journalist and photographer, apparently. The Voice's former executive news editor.

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