Students Present Research from Afro-Cuba Experiential Learning Course

group shot of students and staff on beach in Cuba

The Afro-Cuba Experiential Learning Course brought College staff, faculty, and students to Cuba over the summer.

Swarthmore College  | by Katie Paulson ’18 October 5, 2017 — Students who took last spring’s Afro-Cuba Experiential Learning Course presented their research projects last week at the annual Black Studies Program Fall Reception.

The event, featuring live Cuban music and dance as well as Cuban food, also honored Swarthmore’s inaugural Petrucci Family Foundation Fellowship recipients, Shua-Kym McLean ’18, an economics major from Lansdowne, Pa., and Bryton Fett, a sociology & anthropology and biology major from Alexandria, Va., who worked on research projects with the Black Studies Program over the summer.

The Afro-Cuba Experiential Learning Course was organized by Dion Lewis, dean of the junior class and director of the Black Cultural Center; Assistant Professor of Black Studies and Sociology & Anthropology Nina Johnson; Assistant Professor of Linguistics Jamie Thomas, and Assistant Professor of Spanish and Latin American and Latino Studies Désirée Díaz. Students from several courses last spring — including Black Diaspora, the directed reading of the Black Studies Program, taught by Johnson — participated in the trip.

None of the students on the trip this summer had ever been to Cuba before, and many had never been outside the United States. Emma Morgan-Bennett ’20, one of the student speakers at the reception, noted that traveling to Cuba raised the stakes for the course, as students realized that their research projects had become “documentations of real lives.”

Morgan-Bennet’s poster, entitled “Mamá Negra: Black Maternity in Havana, Cuba,” explores the introduction of socialized medicine in Cuba, determining that the expansion of medical care saved the lives of many black women but simultaneously confirmed certain stereotypes about them.

“As I navigated the poster area, I was impressed and empowered by the students’ grasp of their Afro-Cuban research projects and their ability to share the data they collected,” says Lewis. “The faculty and I had an opportunity to view the posters individually; however, seeing them together revealed and reminded me how closely the cohort of students supported each other during the research process.”

In her opening remarks, Díaz also reflected on the cooperative nature of the trip, remembering how Spanish majors and minors stepped up to translate for students from the other courses that participated.

For many students, the trip provided an opportunity for them to explore their own identities.

“I came back from Cuba with a new confidence in my blackness,” says Morgan-Bennett, of New York, N.Y.

During the reception, Lewis and the faculty members thanked Provost Tom Stephenson and President Valerie Smith for their support during the planning phase of the experiential learning course.

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