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Professor Hiatt: From Bikes to Street Photography

By Maxime Devillaz

Professor Hiatt. By Khadijah Swann
Professor Hiatt. By Khadijah Swann

Professor Willie Hiatt laid injured on Northern Boulevard in Queens, his Vespa-like Yamaha Vino a bit further down the road. It was pretty bad: a broken collarbone, and a fracture in his hand — enough to see the surgery table.

“I thought to myself, this is not worth it,” Hiatt said, thinking that his beloved niece didn’t need him killed in a motorbike accident. So he sold his scooter for $800, and with the money, he bought himself a DSLR camera. “The first really nice camera,” Hiatt pointed out, hinting at the Canon T3i casually placed on the table next to the door.

Hiatt flicked up his laptop, already prepared to show some of his work. ”I have always had an interest in street photography,” he said, describing the genre as taking candid, urban shots. “The spontaneous, unposed type, or street portraits where you interact with people and say: ‘hi, can I take your picture?’ ”

As an associate professor of Latin American History at LIU Post for the past five years, Hiatt doesn’t see himself as a traditional academic. “Actually, I wrote for a student newspaper,” he said. “Then right out of college, I worked as a sports writer.”

His interest in traveling came after studying abroad in France, Germany, and then Costa Rica. The feel for exploring and learning about other parts of the world continued, and soon enough he had found his paradise. “I made a trip to Cuzco, Peru in 2000 while I was still working as a journalist, and fell in love with it,” Hiatt said.

The Peru trip made his life take an unexpected turn. Hiatt left the field of journalism and seized the opportunity to get a Master’s degree in Latin American studies at Tulane University in New Orleans.

“I didn’t plan on being an academic, but once I was out of newspapers, it was just complete freedom,” Hiatt said. “I love the academic environment on campus: I like teaching, I like research, and so I decided to do a PhD,” which he did at the University of California, Davis in 2009.

“He is very alternative, and challenges your views on society,” said Jesper Malmstrom, a senior Finance major. “He preaches for travel and experiencing things to broaden students’ perspectives.”

Hiatt has visited San Miguel, a district in the capital Lima where the working class walks the streets. He explains that the socio-economic level isn’t high, but that’s also what attracts him to this area. “People are struggling financially, but there’s just a real… a real spirit there,” Hiatt said.

He tends to stay away from the touristy affluent district of Miraflores. “I like showing the gritty, poor areas of Lima, and capturing kind of a different side,” Hiatt added. But there are areas when it’s best to be cautious strolling around the streets.

Photo by Willie Hiatt
Photo by Willie Hiatt

“When I go into downtown Lima, I don’t take my good camera,” Hiatt said. Instead, he snaps discreet shots with his iPhone 6. He explains that even if it’s safe to bring it out, it is important to be wary of your surroundings. “A North American or European going into a neighborhood like that and actually taking pictures of people, it doesn’t feel quite right.”

Even though Hiatt would like for his photos to get published one day, his reasons are more personal than motivated by dollar bills. “For me, part of it is the interaction, getting to know someone,” Hiatt said. “But also just the spontaneity of taking pictures when they aren’t looking. Oddities, and just visually, things that I find interesting: the colors, the textures.”

Hiatt lives in Jackson Heights, Flushing — a diverse neighborhood in Queens with a heavily South Asian population. And then there’s the Sikhs. “They are always willing to pose for photos,” he said with a smile. To his great joy, Hiatt has found a multicultural home, and it seems to be something he likes to create inside the classroom walls, as well.

“He is creating a family feel since he puts effort into learning the students’ names and backgrounds,” said Sheko Gholamreza, a senior Business Management major. “He has a lot of cultural knowledge that he uses when conversing with the students. That makes you feel appreciated and acknowledged as a student.”


Peru Travel Course

Professor Hiatt is finalizing the details for his three-credit, study abroad course to Cuzco, Peru, this winter term. It will be the second time he takes students to learn about Andean history, culture and politics, with the main attraction being Machu Picchu — “the ‘lost’ city of the Incas and one of the seven New Wonders of the World (2007),” as Hiatt writes in his brochure.

In the summer of 2014, 24 students participated in the course, which is designed for students who want to experience a historical site and its people, clothing, architecture, streets, cafés, language, markets and food. The class will visit the Inca site as well as museums and archeological parks in the region.

The cost of the two-week trip is an estimated $4,670* — more expensive than last time due to the University decision to no longer swap the tuition part. Hiatt admits this makes the process of enrolling students a tricky one, but he is confident that the trip will be a worthwhile experience for those who decide to sign up.

“If a student was going to take a winter term or summer term course, they would have to spend essentially $3,100 for tuition, and so for another [$1,570] you get two weeks, all expenses paid in Peru,” he said. “That’s still a pretty good deal.”

All students from LIU Post, LIU Brooklyn, and LIU Global are eligible — the recruitment process even stretches itself nationwide. The course may count as HIS 189, HIS 360, HIS 599, or core credit. Enrollment is open until Oct. 10.

For more information about the course, email

*$2,522 tuition, $1,148 travel fee, $1,000 airfare

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