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Summer-schooling in Jamaica & locating myself & my research in the 'Culture & Politics of Protest'

As soon as I saw the call for the University of the West Indies (UWI) & the University of Leicester’s (UoL) International Summer school, firstly as an item on a mailing list & then in a WhatsApp group chat, I was instantly filled with excitement. My excitement intensified when I read that it was scheduled to take place at UWI’s Mona Campus in Kingston, Jamaica- a place where I have always wanted to study since my undergraduate degree! My decision was set in stone when I read that the summer school’s theme was 'Cultures & Politics of Protest'. As an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) postdoctoral fellow & one of the co-conveners for the Migration, Ethnicity, Race and Diversity (MEAD) Research Group, one of my stated objectives is to build relevant academic networks & to establish my international profile. I was especially looking forward to connecting with Dr Sonjah Stanley Niiah whose distinctive & fascinating research about dancehall culture had deeply resonated with me; & I was looking forward to participating in this summer school to become an active member of a rich, international, Caribbean scholarly network. Therefore, the UWI & UoL International summer school fit well with these objectives, as well as providing me with a unique opportunity to learn within & from a mainly Jamaican (& wider African diaspora) standpoint about an interesting & timely topic. Despite the long list of tasks on my ‘to-do’ list, the completion of the summer school application climbed to the top, & my fingers danced across the keyboard as I presented my case for why I just had to be a participant. Luckily, my enthusiasm & aligning research interests were clear to see, & I soon received confirmation that I had been accepted into the summer school.

April-Louise standing by the University of the West Indies Mona sign

Preparatory information was sent to all participants, including the readings & the timetable as the beginning of the summer school crept closer- fuelling my excitement further! A summer school WhatsApp group chat was also created to provide a space to virtually connect with summer school staff & other participating students, as well as to be kept in the loop with relevant updates. In fact, the WhatsApp chat became a great resource & was utilised before, throughout & after the week of classes. I was especially grateful for the WhatsApp chat as I was able to find others to travel to the UWI Mona campus once I landed in Kingston. Moreover, it just so happened that I connected instantly with the three ladies I met at the airport who also came from UK universities! Fortuitously, not only did we end up being flat-mates, but they also became my siStars & the main members of what would become my newly formed summer school tribe. Our tribe was an additional & necessary asset- a space to continue classroom discussions & to reason & reflect.

Throughout the week, we were treated to an eclectic, thought-provoking & powerful mix of interactive & in-person seminars & talks from a range of both UWI & UoL academic staff whose messages were united by the summer school theme. I was assured of the depth & radicalness of the summer school, as well as my decision to attend, from the opening session where we were registered, welcomed, & invited to participate in an ice breaker by the formidable Fabian Thomas, UWI lecturer & the director of Tribe Sankofa. Fabian got us introducing ourselves, framed by several questions, which helped to ease the group into familiarity. He also got us all thinking about our positionality & individual protests via asking us to remember & assert our “cultural relevance & power as individuals” & urging us to always “capture, write, remember & share it with pride”.

April-Louise's view of one of the summer school classes

My mind was galvanised as I learnt about the different mediums that protests can occur within, from reparations to mental health; to poetry, sound & style; to prisons, language, & mental health; to memory, religion, sustainable development & theatre. Linking this to my research which focuses on centring the experiential knowledge of Black British women to create alternative narratives, these talks & seminars enabled me to locate my findings within a broader & global body of Black resistance, culture, power & protest. I was especially blown away by Dr Joseph Farquharson’s talk about the Jamaican language & his ongoing work to facilitate its recognition by the state & Jamaican people alike as an official language, alongside English in Jamaica. From my experiences living in Wales, I was able to connect with the importance of recognising languages through Wales’ own pride & commitment to being a bilingual country with both Welsh & English as the official languages, captured within its ongoing Cymraeg 2050 programme which aims to achieve the target of a million Welsh speakers by 2050.

Scattered between the talks & seminars, we were also provided with professionalisation workshops. These workshops covered guidance around academic publishing & how to create & make the most of international & interdisciplinary collaborations. In the evenings, we were also encouraged to experience Jamaica’s vibrant & world-famous culture, & I was personally able to enjoy the theatre, an open mic event, ‘Weddy Weddy Wednesday’ (a well-known dance night), the National Gallery of Jamaica & the Bob Marley Museum, amongst others. However, eating sweet, fresh mangoes straight from the tree remains my favourite experience of them all!

April-Louise outside the National Gallery of Jamaica

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed a jam-packed & insightful week. Despite the 6-hour jet-lag I was fighting, I made sure to maximise every opportunity to immerse myself in the learnings from both inside & outside of the summer school classroom. I appreciated the beautiful Jamaican weather, the people, & the food, as well as being able to stay on UWI’s beautiful Mona campus. Most importantly, I was so happy with the amazing connections I made with like-minded scholars who were all engaged in a range of interesting research that aligned with the summer school theme as well as my own! The only part I would change is to spread the summer school over a longer period of time due to its depth & richness! Ultimately, I was grateful for the summer school’s injection of new ways of thinking (beyond Western/European paradigms) which I will draw upon when conducting future research. Over the course of the week, I often found myself becoming emotional as I was reminded of my existence as a Black British woman in the academy, as well as the type of research I do which is a protest in itself. As Dr Sonjah Stanley Niaah said in one of the sessions: “Jamaica has a way of showing you to yourself”, & as I sat on the plane returning to the UK, with radiantly glowing, sun-kissed skin, feeling re-energised & re-affirmed, I smiled as truer words had never been spoken!

A special thank you to the UWI & UoL organisers- especially (in no particular order) Dr Lucy Evans, Dr Michael Bucknor, Professor Martin Halliwell, Dr Sonjah Stanley Niiah, Bettene Ross-Lawes! I look forward to attending & re/connecting with returning & new scholars at the next summer school, scheduled to take place at the University of Leicester in 2023.

The UWI & UoL Summer school staff & students outside of the UWI Mona campus headquarters


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