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Making a contribution from Oxford

Published:Friday | March 19, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Jamaican scholars studying at The University of Oxford, (from left) Yonique Campbell, Michael Waul, Keon West, Nadiya Figueroa and Se-Shauna Wheatle. Look out for Keon West's article titled 'Jamaican Masculinity: Construction and Consequences' in Sunday's Gleaner.

The following is the introduction to a series of articles contributed by a group of five Jamaican students currently studying and residing at Oxford University.

We are not short of commentary in Jamaica; after all, we are a remarkably expressive people with strong views. For precisely this reason, when a group of us Jamaican Rhodes and Commonwealth scholars gathered at Oxford to discuss how best we could make a contribution to Jamaica, talking was low on the list.

We decided to target indigenous educational institutions that have not recently sent scholars to Oxford. We have been sharing our experiences and advising students on how best to prepare for achieving a Rhodes, Commonwealth or any other scholarship for graduate study. This has been a rewarding experience, especially given the enthusiastic responses of the students.

Primary Research on Jamaica

Most of us are carrying out primary research on areas of critical importance to Jamaica's development. These include psychology of stigma, trust in alternative economic and political governance systems, security sector reform and the fundamental rights of vulnerable and marginalised groups. We hold a variety of experiences that have shaped our perspectives on Jamaica's current trajectory: teaching in marginalised communities, working in the private and public sectors on public-private partnerships and in various professional and outreach organisations at the community, national and international levels.

We all share a deep and abiding love for Jamaica and a concern for its future. We believe that the courageous leadership and wilful action required for progressive growth and sustainable development must be informed by a deep understanding of the challenges that have faced the Jamaican society historically, and in the present day. Such understanding is predicated on our ability to engage in meaningful dialogue, to cut across the barriers that divide us and to take collective responsibility. The five of us here at Oxford want to share what we are learning and contribute to the informed engagement and subsequent action of Jamaicans around issues that matter to Jamaica.

This series of articles, though based on our individual areas of interest and expertise, is the output of our conversations. Whereas we may not all agree on what each of us will write within this space, our differences are informed and respectful, and the vision and spirit with which we write is much the same.

The Vision

The vision is simple: five students from different social spheres of Jamaica - steeped in different academic disciplines and with diverse professional aspirations, on varied points of the religious, urban-rural and class spectrums - may collaborate to provide a microcosm of the open, honest, grounded, evidence-based and forward-looking dialogue that is needed throughout Jamaica.

We make no claims to having a silver bullet or to being any closer to the issues than many others who contribute in a variety of ways. We note with optimism that similar conversations are taking place in pockets throughout Jamaica, every day. as students on scholarship at one of the world's oldest and arguably most prestigious educational institutions, we have chosen to utilise our privileged position to add value to some of the most critical debates surrounding Jamaica's future direction.

This is an exercise on our part, in taking greater responsibility for the positive trajectory of Jamaica; a collective investment in the home to which we all hope to return.

Our group comprises Yonique Campbell, Commonwealth Scholar, DPhil candidate in Human Geography; Nadiya Figueroa, Rhodes Scholar, DPhil candidate in International Development and our Group Convener; Michael Waul, Rhodes Scholar, DPhil candidate in Chemistry; Keon West, Rhodes Scholar, DPhil candidate in Psychology; and Se-Shauna Wheatle, Rhodes Scholar, MPhil candidate in Law.

The Approach

Arguably, any discussion on societal change must be informed by a careful interrogation of the identity and socialisation norms of the society in question. We will begin our series with an exploration of conceptions of identity in Jamaica, speaking specifically to Jamaican masculinity - its definitions and consequences. We will then move unto the critical intersection between fundamental rights and societal norms, through the lens of the Sexual Offences Act. This piece will examine how gender norms may interfere with human rights and thereby perpetuate vulnerability.

One of the biggest challenges in Jamaica, throughout our history, has been socio-economic disparity and the resultant impact on equal access to quality health care and education. This results in the inability of Jamaicans to achieve social inclusion and their productive potential. This phenomenon is manifestly evident in the notion of 'The Two Jamaicas'. A comparative piece, contrasting two institutions in Jamaica, will delve into these issues.

Public administration reform has been at the forefront of the development agenda, for decades, with major difficulties being faced in the area of critical stakeholder participation and coordination. One of our latter articles will further explore this challenge through the case of security sector reform.

Finally, lack of trust has been cited as a critical impediment to social cohesion, political maturity and economic development in Jamaica. Yet, we have not been short of messiahs, false prophets and rogue leaders, who have gained the trust of loyal followers. Our last article will interrogate the construction and exploitation of trust in alternative spaces in Jamaica.

Making a Contribution from Oxford

Our intention with each of the articles is to speak to broader debates of critical importance to Jamaica's development by drawing on specific case material that may provide a useful lens for analysis. we also aim to relate to salient academic discourses, relying on both credible empirical data and personal experiences within the group, in a frank and productive manner.

Given that our efforts to achieve the change we desire in Jamaica must be grounded in a deeper understanding of the realities that we face, we hope that these insights - drawn from our ongoing research, varied perspectives and honest conversations at Oxford - will help facilitate such understanding.

Nadiya Figueroa, Yonique Campbell, Michael Waul, Keon West, Se-Shauna Wheatle.

You may contact Jamaican scholars at Oxford at