Caribbean Day, which happens each spring on the Busch Campus outside of the Paul Robeson Cultural Center, is an event of many performances. The festival hosts various performance groups who showcase a range of art styles from rap sets to fashion shows, Caribbean dance and a steel drum band. At the festival the crowd is a mosaic of colors, with flags waving in the air, representing the diversity of the Caribbean. Tables surround the event with flags from different countries and other ethnic accessories and clothing are sold. Caribbean Day is an event where people openly celebrate their cultures and it is hosted by The Rutgers West Indian Student Organization.
The West Indian Student Organization was founded in 1973 and is one of the many cultural organizations sponsored by the Paul Robeson Cultural Center. The West Indian Student Organization meets every Monday from 9pm-10:30pm in the Paul Robeson Cultural Center’s main room. WISO caters to over 100 students and is one of the largest West Indian Student Organizations on the East Coast. Along with its major festival in the spring, WISO also hosts a Fall BBQ, collaborates with other cultural organizations to put on Culture Shock, and commemorates Jouvet, a traditional Caribbean event celebrating the beginning of Carnival. West Indian Student Organization is a place where anyone is welcome regardless of their ethnicity.
With all of the things going on in the world, WISO also offers a different sanctuary for students.
“It is an outlet of fun to let go of stress with other people who understand.”-Taylor
J, WISO’s Historian says,“The purpose of WISO is pretty much to bridge the Caribbean culture of Rutgers to the greater Rutgers community.”
One way that the West Indian Student Organization creates this atmosphere is through its weekly meetings.
“We have weekly meetings. We pick a topic, sometimes specifically related to the Caribbean culture or stuff that’s going on in the world today. The majority of our general body is Caribbean so the majority of discussion come from that.”
The meetings are guided by two E-board members who pick the topic for each week and create questions to be addressed to general members. However, the E-board tries not to interrupt and lets the discussion flow however the general body guides it. Although most questions that ignite the discussion are posed by the E-board, the general body can ask questions as well. One of their most recent meetings discussed the issues and opinions surrounding the Colin Kaepernick protests. It gave students the opportunity to discuss the issues around this very popular protest in the media in a safe space with other students who are also looking to learn.
One of the most important things about WISO is that it gives students of color an outlet. With the national reach of the Black Lives Matter Movement and the social injustices that weigh heavy on the hearts of many students, it is important to have space on campus for students to call home, and where they can express their thoughts and feelings in a safe space of freedom.
“You can see the pain when students are talking about things.”- Taylor
Sometimes students need a break from worrying about work and classes and need time to express the emotions about current events that life as a college student often distracts us from. West Indian Student Organization is one of the spaces on campus for Caribbean-identified students to do this. It is a place where students can grow into their identities, learn, and develop within their communities.
“I learned that being black at Rutgers is very important. It’s important to not lose yourself. It is important to support the community, to uplift the community, and to work within the community[. . .]”
Taylor hopes to be able to work more with other black cultural organizations because although they have different cultures, “[. . .]we should be spreading that culture by coming together and working together.”
Coming together is something that is very important in 2016 as we are all hoping to create a better future. This is why although WISO offers this safe space for a certain group of students, is not confined solely to those who identify as Caribbean. WISO welcomes all Rutgers students from various diverse backgrounds and cultures to be a part of their weekly meetings. They advertise their club to be a place where you can learn new things and gain new perspectives while growing as a person and being in an area of non-judgement. Some might not expect that a club whose mission is to support Caribbean students could feel like a family to people who do not necessarily identify with the cultures mainly represented by the organization; however, both the secretary, Taylor, and the historian, J, are students who do not identify as Caribbean but who have enjoyed the club so much they decided to become e- board members. The feeling of family, fun, and growth that they experienced was meaningful despite the culture difference.
In addition to the cultural discussions and safe space the organization provides, WISO also offers students different opportunities for leadership development and growth by being able to run for e-board positions.
“The thing I like the most about our e-board is that usually members start off at the less important positions but gain experience through being given opportunities to shine by doing some of the things that the more prominent positions do, and they can really make the organization better. While in their roles on e-board they may have helped in doing some of the president’s work, for example, which allows us to trust that maybe they would be a good president. This allows us plenty of room to experience growth within the organization.”
At Rutgers, as The Division of Student Affairs is launching their Diversity and Inclusion Initiative, it is important to recognize the importance of cultural organizations on campus and what they provide for the student body. WISO and organizations like it showcase the diversity within minority populations. Even within the black community at Rutgers, there is such a vast diversity in culture and experience that many may not recognize or think about. WISO offers a weekly opportunity to show this diversity within the black community, through the range of countries it represents. WISO helps us acknowledge that African Americans who may identify as being a part of the African-American culture is not the sole culture that black people experience. There are many students a part of WISO who have immigrated to America as children, or who are second generation American citizens. The depth of culture and experiences that their stories contribute to the Rutgers community is beautiful and is something that should be recognized. The West Indian Student Organization is a perfect space to do this.