St. Olaf team creates Caribbean Studies Network
Is the Caribbean a geographical region? Has it been redefined by monster hurricanes? How has it changed over time? Because the Caribbean has most recently been known through the devastation caused by natural disasters, there is an increasing need to redefine the knowledge that emerges from and about their communities and culture in order to understand what is really happening in this part of the world.
Thanks to the research and funding opportunities provided by the Collaborative Undergraduate Research and Inquiry (CURI) program, the TRIO McNair Scholars Program, and the Institute for Freedom and Community, St. Olaf College now serves as the official headquarters of a collaborative network of academics and community leaders who have teamed up to explore these and many other questions.
Three students and a Spanish professor created a new online platform — the Caribbean Studies Network (CSN) — that includes interactive materials, multimedia, and virtual maps, among other resources. It has rapidly expanded beyond Minnesota and continues to bloom. Under the leadership and vision of Associate Professor of Spanish, Latin American Studies, and Race and Ethnic Studies Kristina I. Medina Vilariño, student researchers Carlos Fernández López ’21, Leslie Rodriguez Vazquez ’20, and Camila Ávila-Martinez ’21 embarked on an ambitious mission to create a comprehensive research tool to provide open “access to a variety of human resources and materials about the Hispanic Caribbean, where the impact of colonization and imperialism is still visible.”
CSN is currently being used as a pedagogical tool at Rollins College, and has been presented at the University of Puerto Rico and the Northfield Public Library. Additionally, Medina Vilariño and all three students presented CSN on an international radio talk show. It will also be presented at Bielefeld University (Germany), Fundación Puertorriqueña para las Humanidades (an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities), and Marquette University during the summer of 2020, among many other civic and academic spaces.
“In every single form I can think of, we are living the unprecedented. This urges us to change and innovate in the way academia plays a role through its research in our societies,” says Fernández. “We decided to go beyond a single research project, and we created a space that serves and connects educators, researchers, organizations, students, social leaders, and changemakers to have a fluid conversation, and share content that can be helpful to develop new strategies of development, understand social trends, and open new channels of cooperation for projects that go from education, to the environment, to the community, among others.”
Carlos Fernández López ’21We decided to go beyond a single research project, and we created a space that serves and connects educators, researchers, organizations, students, social leaders, and changemakers to have a fluid conversation, and share content that can be helpful to develop new strategies of development, understand social trends, and open new channels of cooperation for projects that go from education, to the environment, to the community, among others.
Fernández is designing his own major in Global Development and Social Enterprises at St. Olaf.
“The project of the Caribbean Studies Network has been one of the best opportunities to put the theoretical framework of my major in practice, showing the benefits of interdisciplinary studies and cultural adaptation,” he says.
Ávila-Martinez agrees, noting that as a student interested in Latin America and International Relations, she was able to dive into policies and laws to better understand certain historical contexts of the Hispanic Caribbean. The project also provided her with an opportunity to apply Spanish in a much more academic setting, enhancing her bilingual skills and enabling her to better communicate with others from different parts of Latin America and the Caribbean.
“I am a daughter of immigrants. My father is from Mexico and my mother is from Chile. I have always been interested in reconnecting with my cultural roots and to better understand the world my parents came from,” says Ávila-Martinez, who as part of the project researched on the way space and location in the Dominican Republic contribute to visualizing the dynamic identities of Dominicans through museums, street art, and more.
As part of her CURI work to contribute research to the CSN, Rodriguez examined what and where organizations have mobilized people to protest federal policies that keep Dominicans of Haitian descent as second-class citizens.
Leslie Rodriguez Vazquez ’20My interest in working with grassroots organizations was also sparked by this project.
“Being interested in immigration and policies that influence the migration of people, working on this project was an incredible opportunity for me,” she says. “I learned not only why people react through protests and art, but also dived deep into the legislation that caused these reactions. My interest in working with grassroots organizations was also sparked by this project as they are also impacted by policies.”
As explained in the CSN statement of purpose, “the most important feature of this digital platform is that it establishes a network of collaborators including (but not limited to) academic institutions, intellectuals, and community organizations that continue to feed our archive and lab for public benefit.” CSN aims to have resources available that represent the dynamic nature of the Caribbean and the political, economic, and social factors that define and transform the region.
The long-term goal of the CSN team is to open the lens of the digital platform, currently limited to the Hispanic Caribbean islands (Cuba, Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico) to the continental Caribbean regions (such as eastern coastal Mexico, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Colombia, etc), and non-Hispanic Caribbean islands. CSN prioritizes Caribbean voices that trace their own history as its mission is to decolonize history, borders, and the elements of identity in the Caribbean, provide a dynamic and interactive space that is updated with new knowledge, and challenge the existing definitions of the Caribbean and its social development.
Medina Vilariño plans to continue developing CSN with future generations of Oles and extend the editing and content development team beyond St. Olaf in order to expand its scope and benefits and make it more sustainable.