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Cornell University rejects request for new ‘Caribbean Studies’ minor

No ‘intellectual justification’ for the minor, said department chair

The Africana Studies and Research Center at Cornell University rejected a demand by Caribbean students on campus to create a new minor in “Caribbean Studies.”

I regret to inform you that the department is unable to support a Minor in Caribbean Studies,” Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò, the Africana department chair, wrote to student activists. (The letter is dated October 5, but the student paper The Cornell Daily Sun only reported on it on Monday).

The decision came after the Caribbean Students’ Association circulated a petition in September in support of creating a minor.

The students wrote:

We, the Caribbean Students’ Association of Cornell University, on behalf of the Cornell student body, urge that those to whom this addressed uphold the motto of this institution: Any Person, Any Study. The Caribbean is a dynamic region, that, by our geo-culturally based definition, includes over 40 nations. The culture, history, and contributions of the Caribbean people are diverse, complex, and numerous. We believe that this institution should be reflective of this, especially through their main purpose, academics.

In explaining his decision, Taiwo said there is not an “intellectual justification” for creating a new minor and splitting it off from the current curriculum.

He explained:

We would need an intellectual justification for splitting the framework and undermining our primary goal of ensuring that our graduates do not think each of its components in isolation from the others even as, as we point out below, we make a point of providing for specialization or concentration on those component parts in our current curricular framework.

The professor explained that the Africana Studies department currently offers plenty of courses in Caribbean studies. He wrote:

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. 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.

We do not offer similar courses for the rest of the regions in our coverage area. This is a testament to the work that some of our faculty do to accommodate, even before this request, some of the concerns that you have raised.

The petition from the students had a number of other demands. The student group wants the university to offer “Caribbean” as an ethnicity on application and enrollment forms with the university.

“We would like to know how many students on this campus are actually identifying with being Caribbean, because it’s important to us,” Aurora McKenzie, the Caribbean student group founder told the Daily Sun.

“When [Caribbean] students come on this campus … the hardest thing is that you have to find each other,” McKenzie said.

In addition to a minor, the students also want an entire Caribbean Studies department.

MORE: Penn resists demands to mandate antiracism course

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About the Author
Matt is assistant editor for The College Fix. He previously worked at Students for Life of America, Students for Life Action and Turning Point USA. While in college, he also wrote for The College Fix as well as his college newspaper, The Loyola Phoenix. He holds a B.A. from Loyola University-Chicago and a M.A. from the University of Nebraska-Omaha. He lives in northwest Indiana with his family.