Student Blog: Visiting The University of the Virgin Islands

TU students taking the interdisciplinary class “The Roots of Hamilton: Relics of Resistance in the Black Atlantic World” had the chance to travel to St. Croix. They were able to visit Alexander Hamilton’s boyhood home and see different sites of enslavement and freedom in the Caribbean. Anthropology sophomore Kaitlyn Tidwell shares her experience at The University of the Virgin Islands. 

We started the day off by going to the University of the Virgin Islands and speaking with Dr. Chenzira Davis-Kahina (affectionately called Dr. Chen) who directs the Virgin Islands Caribbean Cultural Center (VICCC) on campus and teaches communication courses in the college of liberal arts and social sciences (CLASS). She introduced our group to a sophomore at the university named Keana who served as president of the student government and was working towards a degree in elementary education. They spoke to us about the various aspects of life on campus like the student diversity, classes offered on campus, and what life at UVI was like after the hurricane. What impressed me the most was how the community on campus tried to incorporate all the cultures brought into the university by the students, and then how the hurricane forced the students and faculty who remained on St. Croix to come together as a support system.

Later, we were taken on a campus tour by students working at the university and were introduced to how the campus functioned on a day-to-day basis for students. The geography and layout of the campus was obviously quite different from that of The University of Tulsa but most of the services offered for students were the same like the Center for Student Success, the student government system, clubs, extracurriculars, and the dorm system. There was a surprising amount of space for students to spend their free time in the dorms and around campus. Most were designed to allow students to have a space to escape to after studying. Earlier in the day when we were talking to Dr. Chen, she explained that at UVI they encouraged students to spend their time on things outside of their studies. This allows them to become a whole-person, rounding their cultural experiences out with their academic experiences. While TU tries to emphasize this, too, I think that there is a distinct difference in how most students manage their time. At TU academics are typically the number one priority and any other activities you’re involved in on campus come second to that.

After the campus tour, we volunteered to clean up the dormitory complex that was left standing after the hurricane. We sorted through stored materials that had made it through the storm, picked up trash, and did a few other small things as the university needed us to. Here, we met a variety of other students who were also volunteering in the effort to restore their campus (and St. Croix) to its former-self. After volunteering, we did a brief radio interview with Dr. Chen. She asked each student to speak on air and to describe how their experiences from the island compared with those from the class we had taken. Many of us pointed out how being on the island and, most importantly, being able to interact with the environment, the people, and the culture allowed us to fully understand the history of the Caribbean. At the end of the day, what really matters is that we’re able to experience the culture and struggles of those living in St. Croix today and in the past.

While books may provide you with the knowledge, interacting with the residents and physical environment of St. Croix has given everyone a deeper connection with how life here has changed through time.

The time we spent on campus was very eye-opening. Although the campus was relatively small, especially after the damage done by Hurricane Maria, it seemed to have many of the same opportunities that other colleges offer in the states. We had also spoken with Dr. Chen about new classes she was trying to make available to students in coming years. Personally, I had not expected the campus to be thriving as much as it had been when we visited. This expectation was partially due to the damage of the hurricane but also because the island is not as easily accessible as we are in the states. It was pleasantly surprising to find out how well the college was doing after such a destructive set-back.

Spending a day with locals and in the culture of campus helped me understand how resistance is interwoven into the culture of St. Croix. We covered several readings over enslaved resistance such as Terrance M. Weik’s Archaeology of Antislavery Resistance and Stephanie Smallwood’s Saltwater Slavery: A Middle Passage from Africa to American Diaspora. Both discussed the ways in which enslaved people managed to resist, but coming to the island and getting to see how that resistance is still active today was remarkable. The people of St. Croix are always open to talk about how they got to where they are today through those instances of resistance, and how they plan to move forward and make their home even better in the future. I very much enjoyed my time on the UVI campus and getting to learn more about the community of St. Croix.