Past Program Faculty

Murray Bessette, Ph.D.
Murray Bessette is the director of academic programs at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, where he leads its educational and scholarly activities. Before joining the Foundation, Bessette was an associate professor of government at Morehead State University, specializing in political philosophy, national security, intelligence studies, and counter-terrorism. He is the author of numerous articles and book chapters. He is a past president of the Kentucky Political Science Association, Lincoln fellow of the Claremont Institute, academic fellow of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and co-director of the Bluegrass State Intelligence Community Center of Academic Excellence. Bessette holds a B.A. honours and M.A. from the University of Alberta, an M.A. and Ph.D. in political science from the Claremont Graduate University, and an executive certificate in counter-terrorism studies from the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, Israel.
Claire McCaffery Griffin
Claire McCaffery Griffin, Principal of CGC, LLC, is an independent consultant with nearly 40 years of experience in civic education. She was a high school teacher for 28 years and then served as vice president for education programs of the Bill of Rights Institute, where she co-authored eight curricular resources and presented professional development programs to thousands of teachers from all 50 states.
Gregory McBrayer, Ph.D.
Gregory McBrayer is an assistant professor of government at Ashland University. He holds a Ph.D. in government and politics from the University of Maryland, and a BA in political science and economics from Emory University. McBrayer’s specialty is in the history of political thought, and he has regularly taught thinkers in the history of economic thought as well, including Aristotle, Xenophon, Locke, Montesquieu, Marx, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao. He is currently a senior editor for PEGS: The Political Economy of the Good Society and was formerly managing editor.
Heather Miller
Heather Miller is native to Hillsdale, Michigan and graduated from Hillsdale College in 2015 with a B.A. in history and mathematics. During the summer of 2014, Miller interned for the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation and became familiar with the mission and initiatives of the Foundation. Miller taught 12th grade US government and 8th grade American history at the The Vanguard School, a classical charter school in Colorado Springs. She currently teaches at Hillsdale Academy in Michigan.
Kathleen Ouyang
Kathleen Ouyang is a high school history teacher at Oakcrest School and a 2018 alumni of the National Seminar for Middle & High School Educators. She teaches AP US Government and Politics and Ancient World History. She attended Roanoke College where she earned a B.A. in History with a concentration in East Asian Studies. During her undergraduate years, she and three of her fellow classmates were awarded a ASIANetwork Freeman Foundation Award to study the Silk Road in China. While studying as an U.S. Fulbright Student Research Fellow, Kathleen researched the history of heritage tourism in the Chinese city of Xi'an, developing her research topic with an advisor from Northwest University in Xi'an.
Jonathan Pidluzny, Ph.D.
Jonathan Pidluzny is the Director of Academic Affairs at the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), where he works with governing boards, faculty, and administrators to promote academic excellence (especially in the liberal arts), fiscal responsibility, and academic freedom. Prior to joining ACTA, Pidluzny was an associate professor of political science and the political science program coordinator at Morehead State University, where he won several awards for teaching excellence. His research focuses on the social and civic prerequisites of liberal democracy—at home and in the Middle East. He has recently become interested in Pope John Paul II’s criticism of Marxism/Leninism and the role he played encouraging democratic reforms in Eastern Europe.
Elizabeth Edwards Spalding, Ph.D.
Elizabeth Edwards Spalding serves as the Secretary of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation's Board of Trustees and is an associate professor of government and director of the Washington Program of Claremont McKenna College. She holds a Ph.D. and an M.A. in international politics and political theory from the University of Virginia, and a B.A. in political science from Hillsdale College. Spalding’s specialty is US national security and foreign policy, including the Cold War and America’s role in the post-Cold War World. She is the author of numerous articles and book chapters, as well as The First Cold Warrior: Harry Truman, Containment, and the Remaking of Liberal Internationalism, and co-author of A Brief History of the Cold War.
F. Flagg Taylor IV, Ph.D.
F. Flagg Taylor IV serves on the Academic Council of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation and is an associate professor of government at Skidmore College. He holds a Ph.D. and an M.A. in political science from Fordham University and a B.A. from Kenyon College. Taylor’s specialty is in the history of political thought and American government, especially the question of executive power. He is the co-author of The Contested Removal Power, 1789-2010, author of numerous articles, and editor of The Great Lie: Classic and Recent Appraisals of Ideology and Totalitarianism and The Long Night of the Watchman: Essays by Václav Benda, 1977-1989.
Danica Urankar
Danica Urankar is the academic programs associate for the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. Urankar earned her B.A. in Political Sciences and Economics from Christendom College and was formerly an Operations Associate at the Seminar Network Shared services, supporting the events of the Charles Koch Foundation affiliated organizations.

Past Witnesses

Enrique Altimari
Enrique Altimari is a Venezuelan pro-democracy advocate. He is currently studying philosophy at King's College London where he is researching the metaphysical status of politics from the viewpoint of ancient philosophy. He is the official international Representative of Primero Justicia in London. Enrique is a graduate of Monteavila University, where he conducted extensive research on political philosophy and the Venezuelan Constitution of 1999 that led to an award-winning essay combining political philosophy, political theory and constitutional law. Previously, he was an intern in Baker McKenzie's Banking and Finance Department.
Pastor Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso
Pastor Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso was born to a Christian Protestant family. As a child, he went to the church where he received an education that later helped him in understanding how totalitarian the Cuban regime was. He became a priest, founded the website, cubanconfessorate.com and began to report the crimes of the Cuban regome on his Twitter account. He published the complaint of the dissident Juan Alfredo Soto who died after being beaten. He suffered persecution from the state police and was arrested several times, among other during Barack Obama's visit to Cuba in 2016. He currently resides in the United States but maintans contact with the Cuban dissisdents at the island.
Włodzmierz Batóg, Ph.D.
Włodzimierz Batóg is Senior Polish Studies Fellow at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. Batóg also serves as Professor of American History at Jan Kochanowski University in Kielce, Poland. He is a recipient of many European and American research grants including Fulbright Fellowship at Boston College and Kosciuszko research grant at New York University. His research concentrates on American Communism and anti-communism and radical left in the 1950s and 1960s. He is currently working on books on the communists in the Polish diaspora in Chicago and Detroit during the 1930s and 1940s, and on Billy Graham’s historic visit to Poland in 1978.
Alvaro Briceno
Alvaro Briceno is a Member of Amnesty International, the five years Coordinator of the Venezuelan Section, an elected member to the International Executive Committee in London, UK and in charge of overseeing the whole movement. He has sat in boards of NGOs in Venezuela, Canada and the USA. He has taught at the university level and graduate courses on Strategic Thinking and Planning, Public Management and has experience in countries: Belize, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominica Republic, Ecuador, El Slavador, Guatemala, Haiti, Nicaragua, Panama and Venezuela. 
 
 
Lianchao Han, Ph.D.
Lianchao Han is a long time pro-democracy activist. He began his advocacy in the late 1970s in China as a student leader in Hunan and was one of the organizers of the early student protests for free elections in China. Han worked in the Chinese Foreign Ministry after graduating from law school. He later left China to study in the US. After the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989, Han was one of the founders and the first vice president of the Independent Federation of Chinese Students and Scholars, the largest overseas pro-democracy organization, and successfully worked to influence the US human rights policy toward China. He worked in the US Senate for 12 years, serving as legislative counsel and policy director for three Senators responsible for legislative strategy in the areas of federal budget, taxation, Social Security and economic policy. Han is a registered US patent attorney and specializes in intellectual property protection strategies and innovation-related issues. Han is also an expert on China’s economic and political development, and currently serves as a Visiting Fellow at the Hudson Institute. Han holds graduate degrees from China Foreign Affairs University, Yale University, George Mason University, and Johns Hopkins University.
Doan Viet Hoat

Doan Viet Hoat is a journalist from the south of Vietnam. After Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese in 1975, he was detained in a reeducation camp for 12 years. Upon his release, he founded Freedom Forum, a discussion group and newspaper that advocated free speech and the release of all political prisoners. Involvement in the group led to Doan’s renewed arrest in 1990 for allegedly attempting to overthrow the government. He was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment in March 1993, and in 1994 he was given the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award. His sentence later was reduced to 15 years’ imprisonment and five years’ house arrest. He was released at the beginning of September 1998 as part of a large-scale prisoner amnesty to mark the country’s Independence Day, and he now lives in the United States.

Grace Jo
Grace Jo was born in North Korea, a place where she almost starved to death as a child during the Great Famine of the 1990s. Jo's father was tortured and starved to death for the "crime" of leaving the country to search for food for his family in China. Jo lost most of her family during this time, and in 1998, Jo's mother concluded there was no hope for her family in North Korea. On Jo's seventh birthday, she, her mother, and her older sister Jinhye crossed the Tumen River into China. For ten years the family hid in China in fear as undocumented North Koreans, moving between locations frequently to avoid discovery. During this time, Jo was caught and repatriated to North Korea twice, spending time in Chinese and North Korean detention centers and a North Korean orphanage. In 2006, Jo and her family were granted protection by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Beijing and allowed to enter the United States as refugees in 2008. Today, Jo volunteers as Vice President of NKinUSA and is also a full-time college student.
Joseph Kim
Joseph Kim is from the northern region of North Korea. Growing up during the great famine of the 1990s, at the age of 12, Kim saw his father starve to death, his mother disappear, and his sister flee to China to search for food. In 2006, when he was 16, he decided to make the dangerous escape alone out of North Korea to look for food—and for his sister. While hiding in China, he met a Korean-Chinese grandmother who protected and fed him until he found help from Liberty in North Korea, a NGO that provided more stabilized shelter and later helped him to escape to the United States. Kim arrived in the US in 2007 as a refugee. He is now in college studying international business. He is still searching for his sister.
Francisco Marquez Lara

Francisco Marquez Lara is a Venezuelan lawyer and political activist. He was a political prisoner for four months and was forced into exile in the U.S by the Venezuelan Government. Before his imprisonment in June 2016, he was Chief of Staff of the Mayor of El Hatillo in Caracas starting in 2014 and worked with the Lt. Governor of the State of Miranda in 2013. He obtained his Law degree in the Catholic University Andres Bello (2009) and his master’s in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School (2012). He is currently focusing on torture and human rights issues and researching on the erosion of democracy in Venezuela.

Sirley Ávila León

Sirley Ávila León, is an ex-delegate of the People’s Assembly of Majibacoa. She joined the democratic opposition after she was driven out of her position for trying to keep a school open in her community. Official channels ignored her, and when she went to the international media she was removed from office. Following escalating acts of repression by state security, she was gravely wounded in a machete attack on May 24, 2015 at 3:00 p.m. The assailant was Osmany Carrión, who had been “sent by state-security thugs,” Ávila León explains, for an act of aggression that “was politically motivated." Threats escalated against her and her family leading to her decision to flee Cuba and seek asylum in the United States. She arrived in Miami, Florida on October 29, 2016 and continues to denounce the gross and systematic human rights violations taking place in Cuba today.

Merita McCormack
Merita McCormack was born in Korça city and raised in the rural village of Cangonj in Southeastern Albania. McCormack's maternal grandfather was branded a "kulak" (rich peasant) in 1948. He, his family, and others so labeled had no right of assembly, education, or free movement. Her paternal grandfather was also a staunch opponent of the regime and joined the National Front to fight against communism. McCormack currently teaches Albanian Language and Culture for a Federal Government contractor. She served as the president of VATRA DC from 2009-2017 and is currently a member of its governing board. A convert to the Catholic faith, McCormack has helped many of her compatriots find truth and often organizes high-level meetings with Albanian and Kosovo politicians and clergy (including the Vicar General of Kosovo) at the Library of Congress. She has also worked with the Diocese of Arlington to provide Albanian language masses. McCormack has a degree in Agricultural Economics and an MBA from Surrey University, UK. She is working on a book entitled Life Under Communism.
Jianli Yang, Ph.D.
Jianli Yang is a scholar and democracy activist internationally recognized for his efforts to promote democracy in China. He has been involved in the Chinese democracy movement since the 1980s. He participated in the 1989 Tiananmen protests and co-authored the Constitution of a Federal Democratic China. He holds PhDs in mathematics from the University of California at Berkeley and in political economy from Harvard University. In 2002, Yang returned to China to support the labor movement and was imprisoned for five years. Following his release and his subsequent return to the US, Yang founded Initiatives for China, a.k.a. Citizen Power for China, an organization that promotes China’s peaceful transition to democracy. In March, 2010 Yang co-chaired the Committee on Internet Freedom at the Geneva Human Rights and Democracy Summit. In December 2010, Yang represented Liu Xiaobo at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony. In December 2011, Yang joined H.H. Dalai Lama and four other delegates to attend Forum 2000, hosted by former Czech president Václav Havel. Yang is a recipient of numerous international human rights awards, including the 2013 Truman-Reagan Freedom Medal from the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.