Africana Research Collective reflects on summer travel and future goals | Tech US News

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Sometimes the best learning can happen outside of the classroom. In June 2022, Assistant Professor of African American Studies Garry Bertholf traveled to the Dominican Republic for two weeks with seven students involved in the Africana Research Collective, a group of low-income, first-generation students of color studying the African diaspora.

The Collective, founded by Yohely Comprés ’24 and Gissel Ramirez ’24, explores the effects of colonialism in the Americas and considers the repercussions of race beyond the United States, through on-campus research and international travel. Other student members include Ethan Barrett ’24, Ayer Richmond ’24, Edmund Jurado ’24, Finn Kassell Osborne ’24, Lexie Allen ’24 and Ahmed Almohamed ’24.

“Our sense of the African diaspora is global in scope, including countries and geographies that have been erased or trivialized within popular and academic understandings of the African diaspora,” reads the group’s description.

In the Dominican Republic, the Collective conducted ethnographic research and visited many sites integral to the island’s slave trade and colonial history, including traveling to the ruins of different sugar plantations, mills and markets.

“We hope this ethnographic research will serve as a bridge between our shared passions in this study, the work we’ve been doing over the past two years, and, at the root of these scholarly interests, our genealogies and lived experiences,” Ramírez said. .

The students also crossed Santo Domingo to Dajabón, stopping to conduct research in various cities along the way, as well as conducting interviews with alumni of the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo who identify as Afro-Dominican.

“As someone from the Dominican Republic majoring in Latin American Studies, I felt that black Latin Americans were excluded from both AFAM and [Latin American Studies] (LAST), so I was interested in a space that would fill that void here at Wes,” Comprés said. “It is important to think about the African diaspora outside the United States and that this must be understood from a non-Americanized framework of race, ethnicity, and nationality. There are many criticisms that Dominicans who do not identify as black face, but sometimes this does not it is an anti-black sentiment, but rather a sentiment of someone who does not think about race in the same way that American scholarship does.

Bertholf explained that when Ramírez and Comprés initially approached him with their idea, he was excited about the opportunity to create something new and try different approaches to researching this topic. The vision they ended up settling on was “creating an African that recruits”, according to Ramírez.

The group did a lot of fundraising and applied for grants to make their trip possible. Summer research grants from the Gordon Career Center have been very helpful, as have contributions from the Black Alumni Council. Ramírez explained the importance of traveling to the Dominican Republic as part of the group, even though she couldn’t go herself.

“Traveling internationally and having the opportunity to conduct this ethnography will allow us to bring knowledge back to Wesleyan that would otherwise be forgotten or erased in our classrooms,” Ramirez said. “As students of FGLI/BIPOC+ we have already experienced the erasure and trivialization of the production of African knowledge outside the African classroom. We are committed to bringing together Caribbean Studies, Latin American Studies, and African American Studies to grow African Studies at Wesleyan. We are interested in investigating how public universities abroad navigate important issues of equity and inclusion to build an anti-racist community.”

Other students of the Collective remain as dedicated to their goals as the founders. Ahmed Almohamed ’24 is an AFAM student who took a class with Bertholf and joined the Colectivo driven by Ramírez and Comprés. Almohamed highlighted how powerful he found the experience of traveling to the Dominican Republic and studying historical sites there.

“One of the main things that stood out to me was the comparison in conservation between the sugar plantations, specifically Boca de Nigua, and Alcázar de Colón,” Almohamed said. “The castle of Columbus is preserved, highly militarized, protected and protected, but the sugar plantation where the first slave rebellion took place is in ruins, not protected, not preserved but neglected. Seeing these two sites in person and interacting with them gave me new insight into how one situates oneself in the diaspora, and this is a topic I will continue to address throughout my academic journey.”

Comprés also explained how transformative the trip ended up being for her.

“It’s life-changing to see my native country in this way and to exchange information about beyond slavery with the local people and the work we did before our arrival in the Dominican Republic,” said Comprés. “There was a lot of disappointment as a Dominican to see the different ways Dominicans self-identified to avoid their blackness. When we visited the city of Dajabón, which is a short distance from the Dominican-Haitian border, a Dominican woman called Haitians ‘people without culture’ ” because they recognize their blackness. Reading about this denial is completely different than experiencing and hearing it in person.”

Many of the students involved plan to continue their exploration of these subjects either in the form of a higher degree thesis or even postgraduate studies, in addition to their continued membership of the Collective, which will continue to explore the African diaspora and offer students a space. to investigate and reflect.

“Not only did I immerse myself in a culture completely different from my own, but I also got to experience the same things we discussed in Wes’ classrooms,” Almohamed reiterated. “Much of what I read in my classes was presented before my eyes, colonialism, the ‘white savior’ mentality and the social hierarchy that arises from race and color.”

Richmond and Jurado wrote about their experiences for the Wes in the World blog.

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