Numerous international students are on campus, and LSU is doing its best to provide a positive academic experience. However, why do we not have more students from the Caribbean? Louisiana has strong historical links with islands such as Haiti, Trinidad, Cuba, Guadeloupe, Martinique and Grenada. For instance, Cyril Neville said in "The Brothers: An Autobiography" that New Orleans “is the most northern port of the Caribbean, and a sense of island life – island dreams, islands songs, island rhythms – is definitely a part of our heritage.” Based on this common ground pioneered by writer Édouard Glissant with his notion of "The Space of Plantations,” LSU should offer the opportunity to study in a world-class university not only to students from Europe, Asia or South America but also to students from the Caribbean and do more to boost its academic exchanges.
A good example of a promising collaboration is an exchange program recently initiated by the Center for French and Francophone Studies directed by Professor Alexandre Leupin. The theme of this year’s exchange was Slavery and Culture in Louisiana, and students from LSU and the Université des Antilles (UA) attended lectures by LSU professors from Oct. 28 to Nov. 7 according to the exchange’s flier. Through this exchange program, these selected Ph.D. and master’s students have had the opportunity to visit New Orleans, the Whitney Plantation and Lafayette.
Students from the Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe have worked alongside LSU students at the Hill Memorial Library and have been introduced to Louisiana’s history and folklore as well as the relationship between the American South and the Caribbean. A total of 10 graduate students, five from the University and five from UA benefited from this unparalleled experience.
Several UA students explained why they decided to participate in this exchange program sponsored by the Partner University Fund, the French embassy, the French American Cultural Exchange and the Andrew W. Mellon foundations.
“The reason why I am here in Louisiana stems from its very vibrant multilingual features and language conservation/promotion endeavors,” UA student Sally Stainier told me. “There is always something to learn from the way other nations and communities preserve their legacy in a hegemonic cultural context. Spending a couple of hours browsing microfilms at Hill Memorial felt like Disneyland to me.”
Louisiana and Caribbean histories echo each other’s, transcend centuries and help people of different backgrounds meet each other. UA student Stéphanie Melyon-Reinette likes to point out that ”learning the history of slavery in person and being able to compare our experiences and legacies firsthand is tremendous. I’ve learned a lot and this exchanges gives me another openness and open-mindedness as well.”
LSU students were also amazed by this experience because studying with their colleagues from the Caribbean exposed them to “the similarities and differences of slavery in the Caribbean and in Louisiana,” graduate student Jacey Flatte said. Such exchange programs are obviously a way to build bridges between two cultures that have common creole roots.
“I’m participating not only to learn more,” Flatte told me, “but also to create a contact with other Francophone cultures.”
Ph.D student John Patin also expressed his delight at being accepted in this exchange program. He said “it’s a great opportunity, and we’re in a unique position to be able to make connections between our francophone Louisiana culture and the Caribbean.”
However, what could LSU do to nurture this diversity on a broader scale and foster these cultural gains? Sally Stainier indicated that “spending a semester at LSU for a Caribbean student and vice versa could be extremely beneficial considering our shared histories."
LSU should also offer such cultural and academic exchanges to undergraduate students. They would be interested in having such an experience in the Caribbean if LSU developed innovative programs that would encompass multiple fields such as French, history, geography, communication and business. Professor Leupin’s initiative should be considered as a milestone in the development of the academic and cultural diversity at LSU. Our president, F. King Alexander, must now foster LSU international outreach by allowing more students to cross borders.
Edward d’Espalungue is a guest columnist for The Daily Reveille.