University campuses are often memorialised through the recollections of those who have worked and studied in and on them over generations. But the University of the West Indies (UWI)s founding Mona campus, on the outskirts of Kingston, Jamaica, has another relevant set of stakeholders who bring their own perspective. These are the people who lived as well as worked on the campus, and their children who grew up with the campus as their neighbourhood.
A group of Mona ‘Campus Kids’ planned a July reunion in Jamaica and the UWI Museum took the opportunity to invite them in and organise a taping session, courtesy of our colleagues at the Digital Media Lab of the University Archives. Prof Mark Figueroa, SALISES Professorial Fellow, himself a Campus Kid, acted as gatherer and moderator.
We wanted to know who they are – which generations and which sections of the campus they identify with; the extent to which they identify as a community; the iconic events and personalities they recall; and how growing up at UWI has made a difference to who they are.
The clearest output is the sense they have of a special childhood in an amazingly expansive location amid a multi-cultured, multi-ethnic group of fellows whose differences became lost in the scuffle. As they moved away from the campus at one stage or another, whether for school or changed circumstance, they realised just how special the college campus environment had been.
Carolyn Chan, whose father and other originally Guyanese relatives were in various senior positions grew up in an area of the campus called West Road: “I felt that the campus was my backyard…the coolie plum trees were mine…and there was stimulation from being in UWI.”
Anthony Robinson, whose father was head of mathematics and whose mother was a tour de force in education at the national level recalled that his father saw everything as a “teachable moment”. There was general agreement that this was a common feature of the adults in the campus community: “We grew up with strong intellects around us; people who were not just intellectually strong but committed to building something.”
Others agreed that they were unwittingly exposed to knowledge and attitudes through the nature of the multifarious community in which they lived but also through the types of conversations they heard at their homes and those of their neighbours.
But they also strongly noted that this was not something that they thought about then; they were just children and youths growing up in their neighbourhood, among friends – friends whose surnames, in retrospect, read like an honour roll of UWI faculty and regional intellectuals.
Nigel Richards, whose father was one-time head of medicine: “We learned later that these were big intellects. We didn’t look on it as anything.”
There are also memories of attending events on campus; of pragmatic responses to events, such as strikes that closed the campus at various points. But these are far secondary to the recollections of the UWI Mona Campus, and especially the area known as College Common, as an incredible space within which to grow up. Rich recollections include the social geography of the neighbourhoods: which families lived where…and some campus personalities whose names may have become lost administratively, but who live on in memories: people like Mr Blackwood who grew vegetables on a plot of land near the adjacent teaching hospital and sold them to campus families and other staff; and the lifeguard Clarkie who ran the Sharks swimming club before going to Cuba.
We enjoyed as well as appreciated the willingness to share this aspect of UWI experience and we hope that they may lead us to other insights and possibly artifacts, including those of their parents who were integral members of the campus community at various periods, often high in one or other hierarchy.
At Mona, the earliest essential staff lived in bungalows and cottages from the Gibraltar Camp, a World War 2 evacuee and refugee camp whose many barracks buildings were re-worked to house the university’s first classrooms, labs, halls of residence, common rooms and offices. This was from 1948, and most housing would have been in and around an area called Shed Lane. The first purpose-built structures began construction in 1949, with houses in an area called College Common, and later another known as West Road. Blocks of faculty flats were also constructed. These are the neighbourhoods that would have been home to various generations of the campus kids, but they would undoubtedly have been very familiar with the wider, square mile site of the UWI (originally known as the University College of the West Indies (UCWI).