December 18, 2017

Wellesley for Caribbean Development strives to represent Caribbean culture on campus

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From The Wellesley News

Wellesley for Caribbean Development () is a cultural organization that seeks to educate the college community about Caribbean culture and support students of Caribbean descent.

The organization, affectionately referred to by its members as WiCkeD, has come a long way from its beginnings as the . Originating as an offshoot of Harambee House, WCD eventually paired with the , broadening its horizons and providing resources for international Caribbean students.

WCD serves a diverse community. As President Emma Muschett ’19 noted, “Not all WCD members are international, and not all WCD members are students of African descent.”

The organization promotes the rich diversity of the Caribbean, a region home to several different racial and ethnic groups. In order to support its members, WCD uses resources from both Harambee House and the Slater International Center.

Each Caribbean island has its own distinct culture and multiple different subcultures, so each member of WCD brings with them a unique viewpoint of the Caribbean and speaks on their own individual experiences within the group.

“WCD members are always learning about each other and the different countries and cultures represented within our community,” said Muschett.

The organization celebrates cultures in the Caribbean regardless of representation in WCD. According to Muschett, the intimate meetings serve as a safe space to “address the needs of our members as they arise and try to ensure that each of our members has the space to voice their needs and concerns irrespective of their home country.”

There are many unique challenges that Caribbean students face when coming to Wellesley. Muschett cites the cultural differences between the Northeast and the Caribbean as the biggest problem.

“There aren’t many opportunities for Caribbean students to feel represented or understood on Wellesley’s campus and in the surrounding area, so students can have a particularly hard time if they don’t find communities like WCD that help them to feel connected to their culture and validated in their experiences,” said Muschett.

Wellesley doesn’t have a large percentage of students of Caribbean descent, and traveling to the outskirts of Boston for food and experiences that remind people of home isn’t accessible to many.

“Outside of WCD, there is not a large Caribbean community that is easily accessible on campus,” said Lia James ’21.

Most people have not been exposed to Caribbean cultures, and may hold negative stereotypes. Popular media continues to the reinforcement of these stereotypes without educating people on the actual cultures of the Caribbean. Many have not had real Caribbean food and have only heard watered-down, culturally appropriated versions of Caribbean music genres such as soca, reggae or dancehall music. This can make it hard for students of Caribbean descent to successfully relay their true culture to others. 

Also, most are unaware of how close the Caribbean is to the . People have a tendency to exoticize the area as a mystical, distant place. The Caribbean is the U.S.’s neighbor in so many regards, and the issues that affect the Caribbean affect us as well.

“It can feel sometimes as though the Caribbean is some far off place without much connection to the United States. Learning that the Caribbean is a lot closer than many people think is the first step in making a meaningful difference,” said James.

WCD provides the Wellesley community with authentic Caribbean culture. Recently, the organization hosted a dancehall class, featuring a troupe from Northeastern that taught participants moves to popular dancehall songs.

Co-Treasurer Mariel Rojas ’20 said that the class was a good opportunity to “embrace and celebrate our culture and share it with other students.” Events such as these generate a real cultural exchange between students. WCD often collaborates with other Caribbean student organizations from different campus, which strengthens the bonds between students and allows for a greater development of community among Caribbean college students.

Recently, WCD held a collaborative event with the Sexual Health Educators (SHEs) about sexual education in the Caribbean. This event was the first of its kind and helped members of both organizations exchange ideas.

Rojas describes the interaction: “Partnering with other orgs has allowed members to share our culture in a way that is worthwhile.  For example, by hosting an event with the SHEs we’ve been able to invite others to learn about how sex is represented in the Caribbean.”

Muschett said the most important thing about these collaborations is that these events “often lead to thoughtful discussion about the Caribbean as we’re asked to be introspective about what the Caribbean means to us and how we relate to other groups or various subject areas.” This event spoke to some of the intersectionalities that members of the Wellesley community face.

WCD will soon be hosting another event with Associate Professor of cognitive and linguistic sciences Angela Carpenter on her study of Jamaican linguistics. Events like these educate the Wellesley community about the cultures of their fellow peers and the importance of the scholarly study of such cultures.

Next semester, WCD will put on a showcase focusing on the Caribbean diaspora and Caribbean communities across the world. Many families are spread across different countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, which can make it hard for them to maintain contact with one another. Lots of Caribbeans have dual citizenships between their home country and other Western nations. As a result, the culture has spread as well. Caribbean music has had a large impact on the British music scene, and many up-and-coming artists are of Caribbean descent.

Overall, WCD is committed to accurately representing the Caribbean community at Wellesley. The tight-knit community allows members to get to know one another in intimate meetings and share their culture and experiences. To members of WCD, one of the most valuable attributes of their organization is the family-like atmosphere fostered through the meetings and events. Members encourage the school community to attend meetings and to have an open mind when embracing another culture than one’s own.

In the future, WCD looks forward to expanding its family, putting on collaborative events that educate the community and promoting a healthy dialogue on intersectional topics.

IMAGE: Wellesley for Caribbean Development held a Dancehall class with Northeastern University students Photo courtesy of Emma Muschett ’19

For more on this story go to: http://thewellesleynews.com/2017/11/29/wellesley-for-caribbean-development-strives-to-represent-caribbean-culture-on-campus/

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