The month of February has attracted many designations, Black History Month not the least. So perhaps it’s appropriate that this is the month when the University of the West Indies (UWI), whose motto proclaims it ‘A Light Rising in the West’, commemorates its existence. The university opened its doors to students from across the Caribbean region, in 1948.
UWI Commemoration Day has been February 16 since the then University College installed its first Chancellor on that day in 1950. Recently, the celebration has grown to a Homecoming Week, this year celebrated early February.
The use of the UWI crest, the Brown Caribbean Pelican, pelecannus occidentalis, as a student symbol probably dates back to February 1951, when the first issue of the then student newsletter, The Pelican, made its appearance. The Pelican would later be better known as an annual, which was produced until 1971. It was later re-born as a publication of the UWI administration. Recently, the term ‘Pelicans’ has become widely applied to the UWI student body and also to some of its sporting teams.
In 1960, on February 14, the UWI Chapel at the founding Mona campus was dedicated. The 18th century structure began life as a rum storehouse in Trelawny and the derelict building was moved store by stone to Mona and re-conceived as the chapel over several years in the late 1950s. The Chapel, a favourite project of first Chancellor Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone, has remained an important university location.
In 1965, on February 20, the University of the West Indies celebrated its status as an independent degree granting institution by awarding its first Honorary Degree. The presentation to Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, Chancellor of the University of London, was a recognition of that university’s role in helping the nascent University College of the West Indies (UCWI) grow to independence. The UCWI was a college of the University of London from 1948 to early 1962.
From the mid-1950s, February was also the month UCWI/UWI students celebrated Carnival in traditional pre-Lenten merrymaking; the first time and place for Carnival in Jamaica. This would later change to the current arrangement where UWI Carnival is celebrated in March. But more on that to come later…