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Geneseo Partners with Cuba’s Universidad de Holguín

Melanie Medeiros, assistant professor of anthropology, with undergraduate students in Holguín, Cuba.

On January 11, Denise A. Battles, president of SUNY Geneseo and Rectora C. Isabel Cristina Torres Torres of the Universidad de Holguín in Cuba signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The MOU formally establishes a working partnership that will provide Geneseo students the opportunity to study at the Cuban institution and effectively demonstrates the College’s commitment to offering students global and cross-cultural experiences.

“Geneseo is proud to be leading SUNY institutions in the percentage of students who study abroad before they graduate,” said Sam Cardamone, the interim director of Study Abroad at the College. “We are committed to developing partnerships and opportunities that strengthen both our community as well as the communities where we study.

“The development of this partnership has required a considerable investment of time, but the potential for academic, scholarly, and service work is expansive,” Cardamone added. “Not only is there potential, but there is also a commitment on the part of SUNY Geneseo and the Universidad de Holguín.”

The partnership is the result of the College’s efforts to strengthen the institution’s programming and scholarship on Latin America, and specifically in Cuba. In 2014, the College hired five new faculty members with expertise in Latin America with expertise across the disciplines of anthropology, history, political science, international relations and languages and literatures.

These faculty members founded the Geneseo Consortium on Latin American Studies (GCLAS), which, since its inception, has worked to strengthen student knowledge of, experiences with, and connection to Latin America and the Caribbean.

In December 2015, Melanie Medeiros, assistant professor of anthropology at Geneseo, participated in COPLACuba, a faculty development program aimed at increasing academic collaboration between members of The Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges (COPLAC) and Cuban institutions. The following year, Becky Lewis, now retired, assistant provost of International Programs, and Cardamone attended the Cuba TIES Conference in Cienfuegos and began an institutional partnership conversation with the Universidad de Holguín.

At a system-wide level, SUNY showed a commitment to fostering partnerships in Cuba when a first of its kind MOU was signed between SUNY and the Ministerio de Educación Superior de la República de Cuba (MES), the Cuban Ministry of Higher Education in February 2017. This MOU demonstrated state-wide support for partnership development in Cuba that includes a commitment not only from SUNY but also support from New York State Governor, Andrew Cuomo.

SUNY’s official support was followed in April 2017 by a symposium hosted by Geneseo, “Cuba at a Crossroads: An Interdisciplinary Symposium on Contemporary Cuba.” The interdisciplinary symposium aimed to contribute to the scholarly discussion of the past, present and future of Cuba, with a focus on the ramifications of political and economic shifts on daily life, cultural and religious traditions, artistic production and professional domains. Eighty students and scholars from the United States, Cuba and the United Kingdom participated in the symposium.

In February 2018, SUNY Geneseo Provost Stacey Robertson attended the Congreso Universidad in Havana, and Cardamone and Medeiros conducted a site visit to the Universidad de Holguín to develop the institutional partnership further and lay the groundwork for the future faculty-led study abroad program that was officially established with the signing of the MOU.

“Medeiros is the pioneering faculty member from SUNY Geneseo to lead students in Cuba,” says Cardamone. "But the vision is to engage faculty from a wide swath of disciplines in a number of interdepartmental programs and activities.”

“There is so much potential for collaborative faculty-led study abroad programs in Cuba. Both students and faculty members have a lot to learn and gain from making the most of our partnership with the Universidad de Holguín,” said Medeiros.

This month, in addition to the signing of the MOU, seven Geneseo students and three students from other SUNY campuses spent one week in Holguín and one week in Santiago de Cuba where Medeiros taught an intersession course, ANTH 216 Race, Racism and the Black Experience in the Americas, to both SUNY students and Holguín students. Students also got a taste of Cuban culture with daily excursions, lectures by Holguín faculty, and mingling and working on their Spanish language skills with local students.

This April, Medeiros; Jennifer Guzmán, assistant professor of anthropology; Joanna Kirk, lecturer in sociology; Jeffrey Koch, chair and professor of political science and international relations; and Kodjo Adabra, associate professor and chair of Language and Literatures, will attend Holguín’s international conference and symposium. While there, Geneseo faculty members hope to cultivate relationships that will result in collaborative research projects that will create lasting relationships that enriching experiences for both institutions.

“International study is a tremendously influential experience for the traveler, but with a strong partner university and a focus on reciprocity and respect, the effects can extend beyond the traveler and positively influence the community being visited,” said Cardamone. “We are confident that we will find many ways for both universities and communities to benefit from our institutional partnership.”