ISLAC's New Director

TAMPA, Fla. (Oct. 20, 2009) – The University of South Florida’s new director of the Institute for the Study of Latin America and the Caribbean (ISLAC) has devoted her academic career to studying international human rights and Latin American politics.  In her new role, Rachel May is very eager to build on USF’s intellectual strength in Latin American and Caribbean studies, as well as USF faculty expertise in such diverse areas as public health and engineering, multi-cultural education, and race and ethnicity. With this foundation, we can expect ISLAC to be equally rich and varied in its offerings in order to attract top students to its forthcoming bachelor’s and expanded master’s degree programs. ISLAC is also planning for regular academic and community outreach programming for students, faculty and people in the community. 


“The links between Tampa and Latin America and the Caribbean are broad and deep,” May said.  “ISLAC is well positioned to facilitate the exchange of resources between our faculty experts and the diverse local community.”


Many ambitious plans are taking shape as May settles into her new position.  Applying for foundation and federal grants is at the top of her list along with reaching out to the university and Tampa Bay communities.  Fluent in Spanish, May is ready to share her knowledge, interests and curiosity about the many constituencies that make up Latin America and the Caribbean.


“It is really hard for me to say what drew my interest to Latin America originally,” May said.  “I went to Colombia when I was 19 years old to visit friends and spend the summer, and I just felt like I had come home. The region has been pretty much at the center of my life since then.” 


May graduated magna cum laude in philosophy from Kenyon College and earned a master’s and Ph.D. in Latin American Studies from Tulane University. She came to USF from the University of Washington, Tacoma where she worked from 1992 to 2009, a tenured professor since 2000. She was awarded three Fulbright Fellowships, most recently a Lecturing and Research Award in 2006, to teach and conduct research at the University of Buenos Aires.


She is the author of Terror in the Countryside: Campesino Response to Political Violence in Guatemala, 1954-1985, published by Ohio University Press in 2001, and co-edited with Andrew Milton, (Un)Civil Societies: Human Rights and Democratization in Eastern Europe and Latin America, published by Lexington Press in 2005.


Information about ISLAC and news about upcoming events sponsored and co-sponsored by the program can be found by visiting:



The University of South Florida System is one of the nation's top 63 public research universities and one of 39 community-engaged, four-year public universities as designated by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. USF was awarded $380.4 million in research contracts and grants in FY 2008/2009. The system offers 232 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine. It has a $1.8 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion, and serves more than 47,000 students on institutions/campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland. USF is a member of the Big East Athletic Conference.