UWI AT 70
THE GLEANER, MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 3, 2018
LET’S RAISE A TOAST …
SIR DEREK WALCOTT
The epitome of
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
A poet and intellectual without conceptual borders in a world that
insists upon them, Sir Derek lived his life as he imagined his destiny
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.
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
When reggae is heard, Professor Cooper’s
name is often associated with its literary and
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
The trigger of
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-
On October, 15, 1968, the Government of Jamaica declared him
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
His vision was clear: The UWI should be both an excellent and ethical