Morehousee College makes first service learning trip to Cuba
When Morehouse sophomore Alexander Harris traveled in January to Cuba, the psychology major was able to cover two milestones in one life-changing opportunity. Harris celebrated his 20th birthday during his trip abroad, and marked his first excursion out of the United States.
In January, Harris and 24 other Morehouse students, two Clark Atlanta University students and eight members of Morehouse’s faculty and staff, spent time in Havana, Cuba. According to Cynthia Trawick, director of both the Student Health Center and the Public Health Sciences Institute, it was the first study-abroad experience through Morehouse College’s service learning component, which ties to a College strategic goal to prepare students to address contemporary ethical and social concerns.
“I really didn’t have any expectations,” said Harris. “My experience was very humbling.”
Humbling, he adds, thanks in part to his discovery of the lack of luxuries in Cuba compared to what he’s accustomed to in America. As one example, Harris says during the week-long stay in the capital of the Caribbean island nation, he was only able to take two hot showers.
Another striking difference left Harris with great appreciation of Cuba.
“I was impressed with the Cuban knowledge of self,” said Harris. “They know their history. Everybody in their country knew where they came from, everybody knows their roots. Unfortunately, not everybody — [namely] black people in our country—knows where we come from.
“I can only imagine where we would be as a community if we all knew where we come from in terms of social justice and social change and equality throughout the country. They’re definitely ahead of us in that regard.”
The travel provided an opportunity for Morehouse students to take advantage of study opportunities in Cuba when the Obama administration announced in 2015 it was re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba by relaxing some restrictions on travel between the two countries.
Sponsored by the Division of Student Development, the Cuba study experience was open to students from all majors. Students traveling to Cuba included: four who are studying journalism, others studying entrepreneurship, and students participating in the College’s Dreams to Teach Program: Discovery Research Education for African American Men in STEM.
“It was really amazing to see the students’ faces and the awe in their eyes around this experience,” said Trawick. “A lot of them have said this has really changed their perspectives or just made them feel a connection to their brothers and sisters in Cuba. We learned a lot.”
An opportunity to explore, experience and learn about the Cuban culture and history, including Cuba’s 100-year struggle for independence, the trip included cultural and dining experiences. Some of those experiences took students to a variety of restaurants, on a walking tour of Old Havana, to museums and to Havana University.
Harris is one of four students who wrote personal reflections for a special issue of The Maroon Tiger. Three Morehouse journalism students penned articles on experiencing Cuba as a black man, another a food review and a third on tourism. Journalism and Sports Program Director Ron Thomas, who traveled with the group. also contributed articles about the experience.
“I really enjoyed getting to meet different students, particularly since I don’t have very many STEM students in my journalism program,” said Thomas. “I thought the camaraderie among the group was excellent and that really made the trip enjoyable.”
Funding for the trip included scholarships for roughly half of the students and private pay for others. Police Chief Valerie Dalton personally covered costs for two students.
Harris, who works in the Morehouse College Entrepreneurship Center, credits Tiffany Bussey— the Entrepreneurship Center director he reports to as a work study student— with helping him to obtain funding that would cover his costs.