For the first time since the United States and Cuba severed ties during the Cold War, Keene State faculty members traveled there to learn more and discover what Cuba has to offer.
Professor of geography Jo Beth Mullens and assistant professor of Spanish Lisa DiGiovanni visited Cuba last December as a part of the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges (COPLAC).
According to coplac.org, the mission of COPLAC is to provide students at colleges such as KSC with “a transformative liberal arts education commensurate with that offered by North America’s finest private colleges.”
DiGiovanni said that there are currently 29 colleges associated with COPLAC, and the trip to Cuba was organized by three COPLAC members in order to “deepen our knowledge of contemporary issues in Cuba.”
“This made for an incredible opportunity for interdisciplinary dialogue about Cuba,” DiGiovanni said.
According to history.com, Cuba and the U.S. severed ties in January of 1961, due to Prime Minister of Cuba at the time Fidel Castro’s communist policies.
The Cuban Revolution and Cuban Missile Crisis also contributed to this decision.
It was not until April of last year that Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro shook hands in Panama that relations were in the beginning stages of restoration, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
Due to this history between the two countries, Mullens said that she had some pre-conceived notions about Cuba before visiting there.
“I started to reflect upon my perceptions of Cuba, and what events had shaped those perceptions over time,” Mullens said. “The Cuba that we saw is a nation of thinkers and planners. It is demonstrated it’s ability to adjust and in many cases to make positive change under conditions and circumstances that might have toppled many societies and governments.”
“I felt very welcome in Cuba. I think that this is a very special moment. I recommend traveling to Cuba, [but] before you go become a bit more aware of the different conflicts between the U.S. and Cuba,” DiGiovanni said. “Question your own assumptions.”
Students in attendance as a part of their junior seminar class said that they learned quite a bit about Cuba, which they had not really known much about before.
KSC junior Michelle Andrzejwski said “I didn’t know a lot about Cuba, so it was really interesting to hear anything about it.”
Additionally, KSC junior Kristen Bixby said “Cuba is a far more interesting place than I ever really thought.”
As for establishing a connection between Cuba and KSC, director of the global education office Skye Stephenson said that education about and with Cuba would continue.
“Another thing [about] Cuba that is amazing, is it is another prime and unique example of the very powerful role that education has in international relations,” Stephenson said. “We don’t really think that education is a key player… but education is a mover, and a shaker.”
According to Stephenson, we have resources here at KSC through faculty, staff, and others involved on campus that have ties to Cuba. In the future, programs such as short-term visits for faculty, faculty-lead trips, and study-away in Cuba are now a possibility.
“We have an opportunity to create or recreate our relationship in a new light now,” Stephenson said.
Devon can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org