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UWI AT 70

THE GLEANER, MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 3, 2018

D8

LET’S RAISE A TOAST …

SIR DEREK WALCOTT

The epitome of

excellence

THE EPITOME of university excellence is found in the journey of Derek

Walcott from student to Nobel Laureate.

Walcott was one of the finest intellects of the 20th century, a

literary giant from the Lesser Antilles.

A globally respected alumnus of The University of the West Indies

and one of its two Nobel laureates from the island of St Lucia, Sir

Derek’s scholarly genius was first recognised while a student in the

Faculty of Arts at the Mona campus in Jamaica.

His first collection of poems was locally published while still a

student. As a student, he also engaged in playwriting, which he

described as the most complicated literary form.

Sir Derek, who passed away on March, 17, 2017, graduated from

The UWI, Mona, in 1953 and was awarded an honorary Doctor of

Letters in 1973.

His literary works are known and lauded internationally, and he

was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1992.

In addition to his personal works, Sir Derek’s legacy is also his

contributions to the field of literature regionally and internationally.

He founded the Trinidad Theatre Workshop located in Trinidad and

Tobago’s capital, taught writing and literature at Boston University in

the United States, and a scholarship was established in his name for

students enrolled in the theatre arts programme at The UWI, St

Augustine Campus.

A poet and intellectual without conceptual borders in a world that

insists upon them, Sir Derek lived his life as he imagined his destiny

determined.

At home in the Caribbean islands with his bloodlines that flowed in his

veins from worlds beyond, he was a mind of universal sensitivity, an

advocate of humanity before hubris, of sophisticated reasoning and living.

The motto of his beloved alma mater, The University of the West

Indies, says it best:

Oriens Ex Occidente Lux

(a light rising from the

West). This, indeed, was Sir Derek.

CAROLYN COOPER

The grass-roots

professor

PROFESSOR CAROLYN Cooper has emerged as

The University of the West Indies’ leading

scholar of grass-roots culture.

She has taken reggae scholarship global and

is the leading female scholar of Caribbean

culture.

When reggae is heard, Professor Cooper’s

name is often associated with its literary and

performance aspects.

Cooper, like the late pollster Carl Stone and

Professor Rex Nettleford, a former vice-

chancellor of The UWI, is a public intellectual

and a public figure whose writings, actions, and

pronouncements erode the distinction between

academia and the wider society.

She has used her newspaper columns, her

blog, and radio and television talk shows to

address a host of contemporary concerns

regarding language, the politics of race,

gender, urban planning, sexuality, and other

matters.

WALTER RODNEY

The trigger of

transformation

THE TRANSITION of the University of

the West Indies (UWI) from its colonial

footing to nationalist rooting took

place within the context of the crisis

known as the ‘Rodney Affair’. The time

had come for the region to find

intellectual confidence in order to

decolonise its academic culture.

The internal UWI dialogue was

keen and deliberate.

The New World Group, as the

progressives were called, saw in the

classroom the fulfilment of their

cause. Rodney, however, it was said,

seemed more committed with the

community than the classroom as the

centre of gravity of the rupture.

Rodney was one of the university’s

best and brightest. Graduating in 1963

with first-class honours in history, he

went on to London University, the

ancestral home of The UWI, to pursue

a PhD in African history.

At 24, he had succeeded.

His reputation as an activist scholar

grew immensely on a global scale,

and by the time he returned to Mona as a lecturer, his commitment to popular

struggle for grass-roots justice had matured.

Taking African history to the African community in Jamaica, the Caribbean,

and the wider Diaspora resulted in a political crisis within the immediate post-

colonial Caribbean.

On October, 15, 1968, the Government of Jamaica declared him

persona non

grata

.

The decision to ban him caused protest and rebellion within the student

body at the Mona campus, and beyond, including large sections of the

working-class inner-city communities.

Deaths resulted as people clashed with army and police.

The UWI was never to be the same.

The Rodney Rebellion constituted a watershed in the development of the

university’s sense of self and sensibility.

The decolonisation of its programmes and policies accelerated. The UWI was

pushed away from its colonial infrastructure. The modern university, to a large

extent, was forged within the bosom of the eruption. Rodney gave of his best –

a legacy of brilliant scholarship and an unparalleled commitment to

marginalised communities.

His vision was clear: The UWI should be both an excellent and ethical

university.