Jamaican students make a mark at Tougaloo College
Jamaicans have always been known to travel far and wide, seeking opportunities for higher education.
Although many students are attracted to the Ivy League universities e.g. (MIT, Princeton, Harvard) some of them go to other colleges and universities across North America.
Among non-Ivy League colleges that have attracted Jamaicans over the years is a group of what are known as historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) of which Howard University in Washington, DC, and Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, are the most outstanding.
Having said that, one would not have expected to find Jamaican students at an HBCU in the deep south at Tougaloo College, Jackson, Mississippi!
Tougaloo College is a private, co-educational, historically black liberal arts institution founded in 1869 and located just outside Jackson.
The college is located on an old plantation and has a rich history of civic and social action. In the 1960s, it was at the forefront of the Civil Rights movement, serving as a safe haven for those who fought for freedom, equality, and justice including Medgar Evers and Rev Martin Luther King Jr.
There are currently seven Jamaicans attending Tougaloo College, most of whom are in their freshman year. Among them, AndrÈ Bennett and Kristen Gordon, from Montego Bay, were recruited on music scholarships. The more recent arrivals, Cherica Scott, Romans Grant, Damion McKenzie, Brittinie-Lee Duffus, and Enlyona Weir, are from Portland.
All were recruited through a United States-based non-profit organisation, Passport to College (PTC), whose stated mission is to identify students from developing countries that are strong in the STEM subjects but who lack the resources to attend university. All five of the recently enrolled Jamaicans are pursuing majors in one of the sciences and mathematics.
At the invitation of its provost, Asoka Srivanasan, I recently visited Tougaloo and had the opportunity to meet the Jamaican students.
Not only were they happily settled at Tougaloo, but they all sang the praises of their small college.
"Size is not grandeur," says Cherica Scott, who attended Titchfield High School. "Because Tougaloo is a relatively small school with an approximate enrolment of 850, it is a close-knit community. everyone is known and is important.
"Leaving home for the first time and coming to a place where there are few, if any Jamaicans, we are grateful for the warmth and the caring and friendliness of the administration and faculty," said. Cherica, who is the self-styled 'mother' of the group, continues: "As for our fellow students who have heard so much and know so little about Jamaica, to them we are stars!"
Enlyona, a shy 19 year-old who is the 'baby' of the group, is especially taken by the small size of all of her classes, which numbers, between 12 and 15, and the consequent attention she gets from her tutors. A freshman major in chemistry with a minor in maths, she says, "I like the idea of being part of a small institution as I see it as an opportunity to shine my bulb and be recognised."
All the Jamaican students at Tougaloo have ambitions to go on to higher degrees and believe that Tougaloo provides the ideal launching pad. They cite the fact that Tougaloo sends over 60 per cent of its graduates to professional schools at Ivy League universities like Brown in Rhode Island, with which it has a long-standing relationship, as well as to Boston College, NYU, and Tufts Medical and Dental school. "Tougaloo likkle but it tallawah", said Romans Grant, another Portland native.
For Tougaloo's part, the school is so pleased with the impact of its small band of Jamaican students and the interest in the country that their presence has created at the institution that it now wants to recruit more Jamaicans to be enrolled there. In addition, Tougaloo believes that its American students can benefit from faculty-led educational visits to the island to learn more about its history and culture and the pivotal role played by Jamaicans in the Civil Rights movement.
At the level of graduate and faculty research, Srivanasan envisages possibilities for joint research projects in areas of common concern, especially in the medical field pertaining to obesity and cardiovascular diseases, where Tougaloo has been involved in nationally-funded ground-breaking research studies. He also sees possibilities for collaboration with Jamaican institutions in studies in ,modern-day slavery and diaspora studies.