Caribbean Vibes at Stony Brook University

By Elsie Boskamp and Rena Thomas

Rajord Dempster glided across the SAC ballroom A floor in his high top sneakers, strutting his stuff along with the members of the Stony Brook University Caribbean Student Organization (CSO). The group sported smiles and stilettos on Monday evening as they practiced dance moves and runway walks for their 30th Annual Fashion Show, On the Run Uncharted Isles, scheduled for Nov. 21.

“I hadn’t really experienced a large Caribbean community when I moved here [from Jamaica to Mount Vernon, New York] and coming to college and meeting a bunch of people like me and also feeling this culture shock felt good,” Dempster, Public Relations Officer of CSO, said.

The show, which is their biggest event of the year, allows the growing number of students that originate from or have a connection with the Caribbean islands to come together in a celebration of culture, music and fashion. This year the club is home to 20 members and attracted over 400 guests at last year’s fashion show.

“The Caribbean population in New York has grown and is growing faster and faster primarily in [people from] Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados,” Kim Butler, an associate professor in African studies and history at Rutgers University, said. “Caribbean culture is seen through a lens that doesn’t understand it on its own terms.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Caribbean people represent 9.3 percent of the United States’ foreign born population, 2.7 million, and 61.4 percent of the Caribbean-American population are enrolled in college or graduate school.

“Caribbean students are distinct from general black student associations,” Butler said. “We sometimes look at each other with stereotypes and we are in the process of understanding each other. But, now we have come to a point where we are proud to wave our flag, literally and figuratively.”
Although the Caribbean is an archipelago formed by many different islands and countries with different traditions, CSO secretary Tatiana Dixon and other club members said they can connect with each other because of their similar backgrounds and their understanding of Caribbean peoples as a minority population in the United States.

“We are all from the Caribbean, it does not matter what racial background you are,” Alicia Maraghi, former Vice President of M.I.T’s CSO said. “We all have that one thing in common even if we were raised differently. We have these smaller islands that maintain a friendship and connection.”
That cultural connection is what links the millions of people and hundreds of individual islands located in the Caribbean.
“It is the way we are raised,” Maraghi said. “The understanding of where we came from and the understanding of the history and where we are today.”