International Institute concludes focus on Caribbean series
By Maren Giordano
Throughout 2014, the Schoolcraft International Institute (SCII) has brought attention to many issues in the Caribbean and its surrounding areas through its tenth annual Focus Series. The International Institute promotes cross-cultural learning by featuring films, presentations, exhibits and much more.
This year’s Focus Series, Estampas del Caribe Nicaragüense, or Portraits of the Nicaraguan Caribbean, gave a glimpse into the everyday lives of individuals residing in the area’s coast through the camera lenses of María José Alvarez Sacasa and Claudia Gordillo. The exhibition featured over 40 photographs that offered an anthropological and socio-cultural view of the region.
Professor Helen Ditouras, head of Schoolcraft’s English Department, coordinator of the Focus Series and member of Schoolcraft College’s International Institute, said that she reached out to History Miami, a cultural institution located in Miami, Florida, because of its many regional highlights.
“As the Focus Series coordinator, I try to organize events for students, faculty and the public that provide a diverse sampling of the region in focus,” said Ditouras.
Although she has visited both Cuba and the Dominican Republic in the past and has enjoyed their vibrant, unique and diverse cultures, the International Institute decides as a committee which region will be focused upon each year.
By looking at these photographs, one can visualize the region’s rich, complicated history. Many of the photographs taken seem to highlight an adherence to tradition and nod to days past while showing signs of growth and modernization with regards to the time period in which they were taken.
On Oct. 13, the International Institute hosted Dr. Katherine Rowell, a professor of sociology and the director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio. The main theme was race and its position in a social and cultural context, with regards to tourism and governmental census taking.
When asked why this particular speaker was chosen, Ditouras said, “Dr. Katherine Rowell is a colleague of mine from the Midwest Institute. I had the privilege of listening to her present this topic at our annual conference last year. I reached out to her in hopes that she would be willing to come to Schoolcraft College and deliver the same fascinating presentation.”
Rowell spoke about how Costa Rica is essentially re-shaping their whole cultural and racial identity and their census for tourism purposes. By changing the wording or the questions on the censuses themselves, Costa Rica has been claiming that the country is nearly one-hundred-percent “white.” By doing this, Costa Rica is effectively targeting Westerners for tourism purposes and shifting the way outsiders view it, but also denying the unique aspects of the country.
“I wanted to tie it into my history class because I am writing about French colonies and English colonies, so I’m interested in that time period and how they are recovering from that. That would definitely be something I would write about,” said Maria Hall, a student of Professor Burke’s history class who attended the presentation.
In comparison to the white-washing in Costa Rica, a greater percentage of people in the United States are choosing the category “mixed” over any other category in a survey, as they are becoming more comfortable with identifying themselves as such.
Rowell went on to explain not only the idea of “race,” but also stated that the concept of race is a socially constructed one, and humans bear little to no difference in a biological or chemical sense regardless of race.
The institute hopes to enhance the international content of every part of Schoolcraft College through various programs and activities each year or individual semester, so students, faculty and other community members better appreciate the diversity and underlying similarities between us and citizens of other cultures.
Not only can one become more globally and culturally aware by taking part in SCII, but there are also scholarship opportunities for students who wish to submit a work of art or writing that deals with a global topic or issue. Be sure to check out all that the Schoolcraft International Institute has to offer this upcoming winter semester for its next Focus Series, Southern Asia. For more information go to http://www. schoolcraft.edu/a-z-index/international-institute#.