The Africana Studies and Research Center, the home of most Caribbean studies classes, is not supporting the creation of a Caribbean studies minor, a demand made by Caribbean students on campus.
Earlier this semester, the Caribbean Students Association launched a petition to demand increased support from the University, from academic inclusion to more meaningful representation. Their petition led them to conversations with different departments across the University to garner support — which does not include Africana.
“It has shocked a lot of the students,” said Aurora McKenzie ’21, president and co-founder of CSA. “Even though we knew that not every department on campus would respond, or even support, not getting support from Africana was definitely something crazy.”
McKenzie also explained that, beyond a letter sent from Africana explaining its decision, there was no further conversation between her e-board and the department..
The Latina/o and Latin American studies programs have both stated their support of the minor and more broadly of the demands, making Africana’s refusal stand out.
“We do not exaggerate when we say that not only has that model worked for the last fifty years, it has continued to inspire others both within the country and in other parts of the world, especially now in Europe where nascent Africana programs are searching for models,” Prof. Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò, Africana studies, wrote in a letter to CSA explaining Africana’s decision.
McKenzie pushed back on this explanation, though, pointing to the vast changes of the past 50 years. She also highlighted Africana’s legacy as a pioneer and leader in its field as a specific reason to make the shift.
Africana was also primarily a response to student activists, which Táíwò drew on in his letter. But those original demands that jump started Africana, Táíwò said, focused on their model as “Africa and its Diaspora, with the African American component at its core, as an interconnected whole.”
For CSA, this is the exact reason Africana should support them: they, too, are students demanding better for their community.
“A close look at our curriculum will show that we already have ample provisions for those of your
members who might want to concentrate on the Caribbean region in our extant Minor,” Táíwò wrote. “Equally important is the fact that we regularly offer classes that focus on the region, especially the ‘Introduction to Caribbean Studies’ class which, I might point out, is almost unique in the Department.”
But CSA doesn’t view these classes as sufficient, as McKenzie has been forced to forge her own Caribbean studies minor. Further, the lack of a minor limits the field’s reach, which already constitutes a small subset of faculty on campus; a minor, they said, will help students better explore the Caribbean.
“We believe that the demands, and especially because of the minor, transcends department lines,” said CSA Director of External Affairs Matthew Arthur ’21. “Having this structure established makes it easier for students like myself to find those classes that interest me, but it is also easier for students that aren’t looking at this.”
Táíwò declined to comment beyond the letter.
Beyond the minor, CSA expressed frustration at the way Africana ignored the rest of their demands, which also include recognizing June as National Caribbean-American Heritage Month, accepting standardized tests administered across the region and using “Caribbean” as an ethnicity option in Cornell applications.
“They don’t understand what the other demands would do or how they would allow representation,” said CSA Treasurer Leone Farquharson ’22. “They just haven’t listened yet.”
In the meantime, CSA is still meeting with departments and working on advocating for themselves and their community. They hope to meet soon with administrators for added pressure: So far, only President Martha E. Pollack has responded, pointing to existing academic programs as reasonable avenues to hear their concerns.
“How long are we supposed to wait?” McKenzie said. “We’re passionate about this and this little no isn’t stopping any one of us.”
Read Africana’s full letter here.