The University of Alabama Board of Trustees approved the establishment of the Center for Cuba Collaboration and Scholarship at the University on Feb. 6. The new research center will build on the activities of the Alabama-Cuba Initiative, providing educational opportunities in Cuba for UA students and faculty.
The establishment of the Center comes at a historical time as the United States and Cuban governments work toward normalization of relationships between the two countries.
“For students this is a transformational experience. It is hard to see things in the same way once you step into the shoes of a Cuban student or teacher,“ said Bob Olin, dean of the College of Arts and Science. “Over the years I have taken six groups of students to work on collaborative book projects with Cuban artists and writers. Working sometimes in challenging situations, Cuban artists have adopted our Alabama students and shown them a world far apart from what a tourist may see. These experiences have beautifully matured my students.”
The Center provides resources for supporting University projects and expanding collaborations between the University and Cuban institutions. It will be led by two co-directors: professor of Spanish Michael Schnepf, who has spent every spring in Cuba for a number of years directing the study abroad program, and professor of library and information sciences Steve Miller, who has been involved in the Cuba Initiative’s activities.
The Center will have an advisory board of faculty members and administrators. It will be a resource for faculty who wish to conduct research in Cuba and for undergraduate and graduate students who wish to study in Cuba.
“This new center allows us to dive deeper into educational opportunities that are authorized under our educational travel license from the U.S. Department of Treasury,” Miller said. “The study of Cuba is indeed a growing research field, one for which we are prepared with our already established ties with our Cuban educational counterparts.”
More than 45 disciplines and departments, 85 faculty members and 75 graduate and undergraduate students have participated. As a result, the University is known in Cuba for its extensive and longstanding educational activities there.
Miller said they hope having the Center will help facilitate trips to the United States by Cubans for educational purposes because it has been one of the hardest things to do. The main obstacles are affordability and getting permission to travel abroad. The hope is that in the future Cuban undergraduates and graduates could come to the University to obtain degrees.
“I wish every student would seek out study abroad opportunities,“ Miller said. “So here we have a country just 1,000 miles away from our shores where our students can enter into an entirely different and rich culture. The same would be true of Cuban students coming here.”
Olin said he encourages faculty and students to consider working in Cuba.
“The University of Alabama is, I believe, the most respected university by Cubans because of a steady level of work there and the clear message that we are in this together,” Olin said. “We faculty and students come together with our Cuban friends in the middle. We learn as much from Cubans and they learn from us. It’s a great partnership.”