WKU launches International Year of Cuba

John Singleton

WKU aims to celebrate and explore the country of Cuba through this year’s International Year Of (IYO) program by embedding Cuban culture and topics into curriculum and various events on campus.

The IYO is a year-long celebration of a single country that helps provide a global context to the WKU experience. This year will provide students an opportunity to study Cuba’s history, culture and relevance through the lens of their own specific discipline, according to Office of International Programs Coordinator Lauren Reyes.  

Over the summer, a group of faculty traveled to Cuba with the Zuheir Sofia Endowed International Faculty Seminar, where they spent two weeks making professional contacts and exploring their own disciplines in Cuba’s context. Zuheir Sofia was a 1969 WKU graduate and 2014 honorary doctorate recipient.  

Reyes said the seminar was created to facilitate the mission of the Office of International Programs, which strives to provide leadership in the development of a strong international profile. She said the Office of International Programs supports the internationalized agenda of the university by creating opportunities for faculty and staff development in a global context and supporting the development of meaningful co-curricular programming for student, campus and community audiences.  

“These faculty will integrate their new knowledge into their curriculum and co-curriculum programming throughout the IYO and beyond,” Reyes said.  

The five faculty who participated in the seminar trip to Cuba this past spring will also take lead in populating this year’s calendar and contributing to students’ learning of Cuba. Each has plans to infuse their first-hand knowledge of Cuba into their courses and provide programming that complements the curriculum, according to the newsletter posted by the Office of International programs.  

Faculty participant Julie Shadoan of the Legal Studies department, who set out to explore Cuba’s legal system, intends to host a Cuban lawyer next spring and introduce students to Cuba’s ever-changing legal landscape. Shadoan said she saw her time in Cuba as an opportunity to make sense of a country that is often blurred by its mystique.  

“This seminar allowed me to develop my own lens for the exploration and investigation of the Cuban experience,” Shadoan said. “It has provided me an invaluable social, cultural and economic backdrop for a comparative study of the development of our two legal systems as well as the values and ethics encompassed in the practice of law in both countries.”  

Member of the Korean Pop Culture club, Mason Shearer, 21, said international programs are important because they give international students an opportunity to express themselves and get them a taste of home.  

“International programs, as a whole, give certain clubs at WKU a chance to educate others on that culture and allows them to engage in a larger scale outreach project,” Shearer said.  

Caribbean Student Association Vice President Jalen Dochée said he believes students who come to WKU can stand to benefit greatly from international organizations.

“International organizations can serve not only as a tool to educate students about a nation or group of nations and their culture, but also as an opportunity for eager students to educate their peers,” Dochée said. “With such a diverse campus, I think it is critical and more than beneficial to have international organizations to educate and empower students from all walks of life.”

The kickoff event on Tuesday, titled “Cuba 101,” is an introductory presentation by Andrew McMichael, who led the trip to Cuba, and Marc Eagle. Afterward, there will be a reception featuring Cuban cuisine to celebrate the launch of the IYO.  

“This will set the stage for a year of deeper exploration,” McMichael said.

Upcoming events include a Cuban film festival set showing throughout September at 7 p.m. in Cherry Hall. The festival will feature six Cuban films with an introduction and post-film discussion led by a WKU faculty or staff member.

On Sept. 18, there will be a Social Justice Salon featuring Jim Kanan of the Department of Sociology, one of the faculty who participated in the faculty seminar trip to Cuba. His presentation is called “Housing Inequality and Violent Crime: Perspectives on America and Cuba.”  

Other IYO Cuba events scheduled for the year include a talk by history professor Louis Pérez from the University of North Carolina, an exhibition featuring the stories of art, artists, teaching and a photo documentary of Cuba and an author visit.  

Reporter John Singleton can be reached at 270-745-6011 [email protected].