When Aurora McKenzie ’21 arrived at Cornell, eager to connect with fellow Caribbean students, she co-founded the Caribbean Students’ Association (CSA), became the organization’s president, and took as many classes as she could about the Caribbean.
“We are a complex, diverse culture,” said McKenzie. “We consist of people from every continent. We exist everywhere on campus. Our culture influences American culture and vice versa.”
But McKenzie and her peers in CSA sought to see richer academic offerings about the region at Cornell. Their collaboration helped lead to an expanded focus on the Caribbean in the newly renamed Latin American and Caribbean Studies Program (LACS), part of the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies.
In addition to changing its name, effective in August, the program – celebrating its 60th year – has renewed and expanded its commitment to the study of Caribbean cultures, places and people.
“The Caribbean has always been integral to the work and character of our program, so the name change makes sense,” said Ernesto Bassi, LACS’ new faculty director and associate professor in the Department of History in the College of Arts and Sciences. “We look forward to highlighting the Caribbean through initiatives such as advertising our current courses with significant Caribbean content, developing new Caribbean courses and working toward establishing a Caribbean studies minor.”
Cornell’s Migrations initiative, part of Global Cornell, has funded Bassi, history professor Judith Byfield (A&S) and a number of faculty collaborators as they develop curriculum studying migration to and from the Caribbean. The faculty task force will contribute to the students’ goal of creating a Caribbean studies minor.
“When faculty in the LACS program decided on the name change, we were ecstatic because of the implications it would have on enhanced programming for the Caribbean,” said Matthew Arthur ’21, one of the student activists and cofounders of CSA. “These changes mean a lot to us. I think the enhanced coverage and inclusiveness will have an overwhelmingly positive impact on Cornell.”
Whether students are already interested in the Caribbean or new to its study, LACS will serve as Cornell’s focal point for their exploration of the region. LACS’ growing Caribbean focus will include programming and public events featuring Caribbean speakers and topics.
“We need to create a campus space for Caribbean students socially and academically, and this is huge progress,” McKenzie said. “I’m so grateful to Latin American Studies. They’ve been instrumental to this work.”
Megan DeMint is a writer for Global Cornell.