Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Shine bright

The diversity of the student body across the campuses of the University of the West Indies (UWI) reflects that of the Caribbean population itself. Therefore, notwithstanding the growing segment of students coming from outside of the region, Caribbean students alone provide the multicultural mixture that many universities around the world try to emulate.

The reason for this desire for diversity is simple. The student body on any university campus is the heart and soul of the institution. A rich and vibrant student life is highly desirable because it should translate into students who are engaged, conscious and contemplative – all the attributes that indicate that one is developing the advanced cognitive and analytical abilities that are the aim of higher education. Aside from the student body, the university is also comprised of its faculty, to whom students and the wider society look for learned and considered opinion on the varied areas of their study and expertise. Together, the students and faculty represent a special community within the national society, made so by virtue of their academic enlightenment.

Accordingly, it is expected that when the members of the university community open up their activities to the public, that it be such that guests can be enriched by their interaction with the university community. In this regard, we can find no fault with the faculty and administration of the University. This island’s social calendar is replete with lectures, showcases and seminars hosted by the University, where faculty members engage the public on a variety of socially relevant issues. We also note that students of the performing arts have made efforts to share their work with the wider community.

We would therefore appeal to those active faculty members and students alike to encourage their more reserved colleagues to join them in their public interactions. The more diverse the sources, the more robust any public debate can be.

What we would also like to see is for more members of the student body to embrace their role as leaders within society. Certainly, they are yet in the early stages of their path to higher education, but we believe that they have a certain responsibility to show themselves to be committed to this role. Over the years, the carnival at the Cave Hill campus has showcased the talents of UWI students in song, fashion design and several other creative outlets. It is disappointing that the diverse cultural expressions did not appear to have grown apace with the ‘jump up’ aspect of the carnival, which has moved from a small  on-campus activity to an event that takes place on public streets and is seen as the centrepiece of the festivities.

Of course, revelry has become big business, and we do not deny that the costumed bands are a creative outlet as well as an opportunity for entrepreneurial efforts. However, the end result is that one of the few times that the members of the public engage with UWI students as a unified body, the image that is left in their minds is one of revelry and in many cases, debauchery.

With the introduction of tuition fees at the Cave Hill campus, many persons are questioning the value of an education at the UWI. Students, just as much as the other members of the university community, play an important role in shaping the image of the university and influencing prospective students’ decisions to join that fraternity. We would wish for a student body that revels in its Caribbean identity and, yes, knows how to have a good time. Nonetheless, we would also wish that their most publicised and patronised events be those that give reassurance that the university remains a beacon, in all spheres.

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