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Caribbean Student Association to resurface campus presence with community service, cultural connection

Sage Russell | Assistant Photo Editor
Members of the Caribbean Student Association pose for a portrait.

A revitalized cultural organization is bringing back a space for Caribbean students on campus.

Leaders of the Caribbean Student Association said they started programming this fall to provide a community for Caribbean students and community members who want to learn more about Caribbean culture. They said the group aims to establish a presence on campus and expand the organization’s outreach to students through programming like community service opportunities, regular social events and class-targeted programming.

Members of CSA, which went inactive in the fall of 2021, resurfaced the organization’s campus presence by hosting a welcome mixer, horror movie night and community service events this semester. The group has also held class-specific programming, including a Freshmen Game Night and Sophomore Trivia Night.

CSA has also cosponsored events with other organizations like the University of Maryland CSA’s annual Fall Fete on Sept. 30 — where students enjoy free food, performances and music — and Students for Justice in Palestine at GW’s walkout Thursday.

Cierra Bain, a junior and the organization’s co-social media director, said CSA hosted one welcome mixer her first year of GW and that she didn’t know why the organization ceased its programming shortly after. Bain said she and Isabella Marte, the other co-social media director, hope that keeping in touch with other organizations of color and ones they share similar beliefs with will help CSA cultivate a caring social environment.

“We want to sponsor a big and unique family,” Bain said. “We want to gather a huge audience and not only individuals of Caribbean descent or heritage but for anyone who is willing to celebrate and cherish our cultures as well.”

Bain said she and Marte have strived to boost CSA’s campus presence by posting on the organization’s communication channels like Instagram and GW Engage, as well as promoting their programming in group chats on GroupMe, like gwu free food & advice.

“Just infiltrating every single source that GW students would use is how Isabella and I try to make CSA known on GW’s campus,” Bain said.

Bain said the organization held a community service event in partnership with Jumpstart — a national AmeriCorps program that places college students to serve preschool children in lower-income neighborhoods — in late October. She said she and about 18 other volunteers created various learning activities, including cutting out laminated objects like cars and bubbles for students to identify during exercises and using emojis to create “emotional storyboards” that help children express and recognize their feelings.

“Each and every one of them did impactful work,” Bain said. “It was really, really nice to be in there.”

Bain added that she enjoyed seeing GW staff interested in learning about CSA at an Oct. 27 event in Duquès Hall — a collaboration between CSA and Jumpstart to develop materials to help improve literacy skills — where an IT staffer stopped by to observe the event and followed the organization’s Instagram account after.

Co-President Joanna Destil, a junior, said CSA’s creation was “a gradual thing” after she and other students realized an umbrella organization for Caribbean students was missing from campus. 

“There’s so many people in GW that are staff, faculty and they’re also Caribbean,” Destil said. “It’s so cool to see that there’s Caribbean people in each and every level of everywhere, so this is a way to bring everyone together.”

Co-President Imani Granville, a junior, said the purpose of the organization is to bring awareness to the hundreds of islands that encompass the Caribbean and a network where students can learn more about their culture and others in the neighboring islands.

“We want to be seen, and we want to be heard and we want to be represented, and that’s what CSA is here to do,” Granville said. “We’re here to represent, and we’re here to care for and we’re here to cater to our Caribbean students and make them feel more at home.”

Granville said CSA plans on collaborating with multiple cultural organizations to represent the multiculturalism of the Caribbean, which includes people of African, European, Indigenous and Asian descent.

“We want to broaden our horizons because it’s not just Black people in the Caribbean,” Granville said. “A lot of people, when they think about the Caribbean, they think about Jamaica, Haiti, sometimes Trinidad and Tobago because obviously Nicki Minaj is from Trinidad, but there’s so much more to the Caribbean, and we want to make sure that everyone is included.”

Granville said she and Destil worked with the Office of Student Life last spring to reestablish the organization and met with other groups and community members, including former Black Student Union President Gianna Cook, to receive advice on the organization’s success while maintaining a work-life balance. 

“She really helped me figure out where we need to go and what our role is as co-presidents and how we can help make CSA be something that’s conducive for everyone in it,” Granville said.

Marte, a sophomore, said the organization launched their first general body meeting at the end of September with a welcome mixer where attendees socialized as music from across the Caribbean filled a room in the District House basement. 

Marte added that the organization uses colors related to Caribbean culture — like blue, yellow, red and green — in their Instagram posts. She said CSA does not host “lecture-style” events and instead tries to boost engagement by presenting information about Caribbean culture through interactive discussions at events.

“We want our members to engage with each other to expand other people’s knowledge,” Marte said.  

Marte added that the organization held an event with Martha’s Table in early October, where they helped set up a fresh-produce market and parents could come pick up groceries and recipe cards. She said the organization feels that community service is critical to being Caribbean.

“That’s a key ideal in every Caribbean culture, whether it’s a Hispanic Caribbean culture or a Latin, Caribbean culture, or whether you’re Jamaican, Dominican, Puerto Rican, like this is all a valuable part of all of our cultures,” Marte said. 

Marte said she hopes to see CSA blossom in the coming years and continue hosting community service opportunities and student events. 

“Maybe it’s something that I come back to when I visit GW in five years and see, ‘Wow, CSA is still here and it’s not the CSA that we brought back, this is a new CSA and one that is really passionate about what they do,’” Marte said.

Irekar Jeune, the organization’s sophomore representative, said she hopes to see CSA grow membership in the next year and wants the organization to have a long-term legacy on campus. 

“It’s something where you generally feel excited to go to all these events, you find community there, you find some of your close friends there,” Jeune said.

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