SoCA Heritage week brings Caribbean presence to Williams campus

The Students of Caribbean Ancestry kicked off its first SoCA Heritage week, themed Out of Many . . . One Culture, on Saturday. For some students, the SoCA sponsored Carnival Party and Caribbean Dinner were the first indications of the sizable Caribbean and Caribbean-American population on campus. However, the posters of the Caribbean and the strains of soca, calypso and reggae flooding Baxter mailroom last week were not the first manifestations of the Caribbean presence on campus.

The formation of SoCA was spear-headed five years ago by Frank Rosado ‘96 and other Caribbean affiliated students in the class of ‘95 and ‘96. Despite the efforts of Rosado, the organization initially languished—due to low membership, as well as a lack of recognition and funding from the Minority Coalition—MinCo recognizes and provides funding for groups only if they have existed for a period of three years. In the spring of 1995, anticipating recognition from MinCo and an ever increasing Caribbean and Caribbean-American population, SoCA resolved to increase its campus activities and profile.

A member of the 1996-97 coordinating board, Tamaan Osbourne-Roberts ‘99 remembered SoCA’s past year as being “extremely hectic.” SoCA Co-President Phillipa Johnson ‘99 concurred, recalling that SoCA not only had to learn to cater to the needs of the Caribbean and Carib-American students on campus but also “a lot of things: establishing organizational structure, ironing out a constitution, planning appropriate events and more was needed to achieve our goals of being a viable and legitimate organization.” Johnson also noted that SoCA’s focus has always been on providing the cultural and social supports that students miss when they leave their homes. “Whether that home be in the Caribbean region, a Bajan home in New York or a Trini family in Colorado…People who shared a culture could reminisce about the small things missed most…like the constant sea breeze, the sound of rain on an aluminum roof…the cooking.”

A year later, it seems the efforts of organization have paid off. With a full week of events planned, SoCA introduces the Williams campus to a wide range of topics, from the political and environmental to the social and cultural aspects of the Caribbean region. Though there was obviously not enough time in the week to address every topic pertinent to the more than 28 islands which comprise the region, Johnson notes “there is something there for everyone.” Accordingly, Saturday’s party hailed the Carnival tradition which almost all Caribbean islands share. Monday’s lunch forum, “Soufriere Hills Volcano—A Discussion of Social and Environmental Pressures in Montserrat,” presented by Adwoa Boahene ‘00 touched on an issue that affects many of the Caribbean islands. As SoCA Co-President Sandina Green ‘99 remarked, “especially, for the leeward and windward islands (the chain of islands extending from Puerto Rico to Trinidad), people are so connected that the things which occur on one island will almost definitely have some affect on the whole chain.”

While concerned with discussing and portraying events occurring within the Caribbean, upcoming SoCA activities will also address issues that Caribbean peoples face within the United States. On Thursday afternoon, Carol Archer will give a lecture entitled, “African-American and Caribbean Relations: Conflict and Cooperation,” in Griffin 3. Archer, a doctorate student at the City University of New York, has written numerous articles about Caribbean immigrants, particularly their political and community formations within major U.S. cities.

Additionally, on Friday and Saturday, the organization will cosponsor a Steel Pan Currier Club with the Student Activities Committee. Originally from Trinidad, ‘pan’ is a hammered steel drum carefully tuned to produce a range of tones. Steel drums play almost anything, from calypso, to classical, to jazz. Referring to the planned fusion of jazz and steel pan, Kerice Pinkney ‘00 praised the Currier Club event as “a wonderful opportunity for two cultures to combine and interact.” The Sunday workshop on the history and playing of Steel Pan is another example of SoCA’s attempts to provide the college campus with information it might not normally access about Caribbean culture.

SoCA Heritage week also provides Caribbean and Caribbean-American students with the opportunity to personally showcase parts of their culture. The Tuesday night video presentation of Dahra Jackson’s “It’s All About the Vibe – A Documentary of Jamaican Social Dance” is an opportunity for the sophomore to present the results of her Independent Winter Study in Jamaica. Wednesday’s lunch forum, Caribbean Folklore, Poetry & Readings will also allow SoCA-lites and others to share literature and ideas from their islands. Pinkney also noted, “We are really excited about the campus openness and response to our presence…Its nice to be able to experience and share some of your culture when you’re already so far away from home.”