Ten faculty members from a variety of disciplines attended a faculty seminar in Cuba this June and returned with new ideas and changed perspectives, they said Wednesday in a debrief and forum session.
The faculty members on the two-week trip based in Havana were Martha Merritt, Lazaro Lima, Andy Spalding, Patricia Herrera, Rafael de Sa, Laura Browder, Dixon Abreu, Ernesto Semán, Jenny Pribble and Jonathan Wight. Many faculty members were Spanish speakers or from Latin America, because regional expertise was favored in the selection for the seminar this year.
The annual faculty seminar was originally designed “to reach across schools and across disciplines to bring University of Richmond scholarship together in joint enterprises,” said Merritt, dean of international education. The trip to Cuba was no different.
Semán, a professor of leadership studies, developed plans for a future research project. Semán also collaborated with Pribble, a professor of political science and international studies, to form an idea for a joint class about Cuba between leadership studies and political science.
Pribble also noted that in political science, Cuba is rarely compared to other countries because it is considered to be an outlier. Her experiences during the seminar altered this view.
“I came back convinced that I needed to change the way I teach Cuba,” Pribble said.
Browder, a professor of American studies, had a connection to Cuba through family. Her grandfather, who she is writing a biography about, was the head of the American Communist Party during its most influential period.
“Cuba was the only place where his ideas were still being studied and taken seriously,” she said.
In the national library of Cuba, Browder found several of her grandfather’s books that are not normally found in libraries worldwide. These experiences in Cuba with relation to her grandfather changed her life and work in a profound way, she said.
Recent changes in Cuba also interested faculty members. Lima, the associate provost for faculty, noted that Cuba was one of the most complicated sociopolitical places in the world right now.
Disciplines affected how some faculty members viewed the changes, as was the case with de Sa, a biology professor.
“Everyone was very excited when we talked to Cubans about the economic changes and the increasing productivity,” de Sa said. “Cuba doesn’t use pesticides, for example, and they’re trying to increase their output of food production so they’re pushing for the use of pesticides, which for a biologist, is a biodiversity nightmare.”
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The faculty seminar trip to Cuba overlapped briefly with a trip by President Ronald Crutcher and Provost Jacquelyn Fetrow.
"[They] came to Havana, were briefed by faculty about their experiences and then had a week of their own exploring possible partnerships, chiefly in Havana,” Merritt said.
Many faculty members enjoyed the companionship of their colleagues.
“The best thing about this trip was getting a chance to connect with fellow faculty members and getting a chance to learn from them and have arguments,” said Wight, an economics professor.
Spalding, a professor of law, also valued the discourse among his colleagues.
“The most challenging component of the trip was talking to my colleagues about what we were seeing and recognizing the very different lenses through which we were experiencing them,” Spalding said. “That had great value for me.”
Contact news writer Ashlee Korlach at firstname.lastname@example.org
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