Dr Luz Longsworth-new principal of the University of the West Indies (UWI) Open Campus
Dr Luz Longsworth is new
principal of UWI Open Campus
Dr Luz Longsworth's grandmother, Frances, taught her that class has less to do with social status and money than it does with displaying grace in the face of adversity, compassion to others, self-respect and dignity.
Her mother, Dorothy deSouza, taught her what it means to be a strong woman and that true character is built from within and shines with or without external validation.
With the wisdom and leadership of these two women as her foundation, and a grandfather whose influence forced her to have an inquiring mind and not to be afraid of speaking up, there was absolutely nothing to stop this trailblazer.
Longsworth was born to Venezuelan and Jamaican parents. Her mom is the Jamaican in her family, while her dad, JosÈ Rafael Arrieta, although not being part of her upbringing, influenced her love of languages, including Spanish, music and dance.
Sharing the lessons learnt from an early age, the pro vice-chancellor and new principal of the University of the West Indies (UWI) Open Campus told the large audience who witnessed her induction two Thursdays ago in Belize, that her family and friends are the foundation of her stability, values and core principles.
She credited the institution with which she has had a 37-year association for her academic, intellectual and activism skills.
Arriving at the Mona campus in the then Faculty of Arts and General Studies, the intellectual vibrancy of the UWI was a heady experience, said Longsworth.
"My faculty was full of stars, established ones such as Sir Roy Augier, and rising ones such as Hilary Beckles, Gertrude Buscher, Lal Narinesingh and Pauline Christie. At the Faculty of Social Sciences, we had Trevor Munroe and George Beckford; in medicine the legendary Professor George Alleyne and the up-and-coming surgeon Archibald McDonald. There was no doubt that I was where I belonged from that day," she said.
Except for two occasions over a 10-year period in which family commitments intervened, she has never been physically apart from UWI, starting out as a student, then lecturer and administrator.
Those who touched her life in a meaningful way include Professor Gerald Lalor. "I had the good fortune to work first as an assistant registrar and then as executive assistant to Professor Lalor - one of the most brilliant scientific minds of our region, whose vision and foresight were ahead of his time," she stated.
It was Lalor who fathered distance education via technology, which would evolve into the school's powerful online modality in the Open Campus, which Longsworth now leads.
"It was Professor Lalor who introduced me to that strange new tool called email, and who struck fear in everyone's hearts when he dared to dig up the revered Ring Road to install something called fibre-optic cable to ensure that one day every staff member would have a computer on their desk - a vision dismissed by many who thought it would have been wiser to invest in more books for the library. Look at us now," she said.
Female leaders at the university have had tremendous impact on her life, and during her speech she lauded Professor Marlene Hamilton, who, as deputy principal, showed her how important caring for all students and alumni is. "And who, along with Professor Elsa Leo-Rhynie, modelled how women could survive and thrive in leadership at UWI."
Under the leadership of current Vice-Chancellor Sir Hilary Beckles, Longsworth said she has learnt how crucial visionary leadership of the university is for the region's growth and development.
When Longsworth speaks about the benefits of regional integration, she uses her two children, Marisa and Brad, as examples.
Both have benefited from the excellent education of schools in Jamaica, the British Virgin Islands and Belize, receiving "strong undergraduate and postgraduate training at the UWI's Mona and Barbados campuses".