Benjamin Lessing, Director and Associate Professor in Political Science
Professor Benjamin Lessing leads the Center in coordinating University interests in research and teaching on Latin America. He studies "criminal conflict"—organized violence involving armed groups that do not seek formal state power, such as drug cartels, prison gangs, and paramilitaries. His first book, Making Peace In Drug Wars: Crackdowns and Cartels in Latin America (Cambridge University Press, Studies in Comparative Politics Series, 2017), examines armed conflict between drug trafficking organizations and the state in Colombia, Mexico and Brazil.
Natalie Arsenault, Associate Director
Natalie Arsenault manages the operations of the Center and fosters linkages with academic units on campus, community organizations, and professional associations. She is responsible for the Center's program planning and design, policy-making, budget, and supervision of administrative staff. She is also responsible for managing the Center's external grants and fellowships, including the Tinker Visiting Professorship and the Tinker Field Research Grant. Natalie holds an MA in Latin American Studies (with a focus on Brazilian Studies) from the University of Florida, and has spent 20 years working in Latin American Studies. She serves on the Executive Committee of the Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs and is an active member of the Latin American Studies Association.
Diana Schwartz Francisco, Assistant Instructional Professor
Diana Schwartz Francisco serves as program adviser for the LACS BA degree and graduate certificate programs; teaches the required BA Colloquium, as well as courses of her own design; and develops experiential learning opportunities for students. She earned her PhD in History from the University of Chicago (2016). Her work integrates economic development, Indigenous politics, and environmental issues.
Lindsay Ortega, Student Affairs Coordinator/Office Manager
Lindsay Ortega is responsible for administering the CLAS BA and graduate certificate programs, courses, and graduate fellowships. She also provides logistical support for CLAS operations. Lindsay holds an MA in Political Science/International Affairs and graduate certificate in Latin American and Caribbean Studies from the University of South Florida. She has managed programs at AmeriCorps, coordinated the Global Citizens Project and international internship programming at the University of South Florida, and worked as a GIS analyst.