What made the UWI a place of engagement and enjoyment in the 1960’s? Panellists and participants at our April 12 UWI & the 1960s Teach-In identified many elements, but perhaps most strongly that people came of age. Here are some highlights from the panellists:
Cecile Clayton (1966-1969): Engagement – students had exams at the end of first and third years, so the second year was often a time of deep engagement with matters of the day, with student government, with art and culture, sports and student government! By the late 1960s, the Black Power movement was catching on like wildfire. The low hair cut called the Makeba was one popular style.
Linnette Vassell (1965-1968): UWI was a place that facilitated transitions, include conscious moves from poverty to middle class. Being in Mary Seacole Hall helped to underline the reality and importance of women’s support for each other. It was a time to build consciousness in terms of who you would become.
Fay Durrant (1963-1966): The regional connection was strong and there was the possibility of exploring the region and connecting with campus contacts by taking one of the Federal boats down the islands. Student commentary was important, with Taylor Hall’s ‘Rising Star’ newsletter being active.
Winston Carr (1961-1964): The bond between students from across the region remained strong despite the end of Federation. The Students Union was integral to social life on campus and there were good fetes at the Union and on the halls of residence. Crime was not an issue. Ragging was also an integral part of baptism into hall life at a time when all students lived in one of the halls of residence.
Swithin Wilmot, former Dean of the Faculty of Humanities, who represented History Department Chair Matthew Smith, came to the UWI as a student in the early 1970s. He noted that people who remember their UWI experience most passionately are those who lived on hall. He suggested that what may be perceived today as a lack of activism among university students may in fact be reflective of the fact that the majority of students no longer live on campus, and that their activism may be being expressed elsewhere.
Activism was certainly a feature of the 1960s landscape at the UWI, most strikingly at the founding Mona Campus, with intense interest in Black history and demonstrations against the Jamaica government’s October 1968 exclusion of the Guyanese lecturer Walter Rodney in some ways paralleling student activism elsewhere. Prof Brenda Plummer of the Department of History & Afro-American Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2018 Elsa Goveia Lecturer at Mona, noted that this was a time of challenges, especially by youth, to promises of democracy and development since World War 2, with threads including the Cuban Revolution, the Civil Rights Struggle in the US, later Black Power, racial struggles in Southern Africa, the Cold War and the Vietnam War.
UWI & the 1960s: A Teach-In, was a collaboration of the UWI Museum and the UWI Mona’s Department of History & Archaeology. The occasional series, UWI & the 1960s, has been on-going since 2015.