A Home Away From Home: Caribbean student group looks for renewed representation at Kent State

Brianna Camp Reporter

SOCA is back and ready for action. Founded in 2017, the Student Organization of Caribbean Alliance has had its ups and downs, but this year the group is trying to reorganize and re-establish itself on Kent State’s campus. 

Advisor and Secretary Blaire Thompson said, “SOCA’s mission is to foster an awareness of the diversity of Caribbean cultures and traditions and to unite students who are Caribbean or who share an interest in the Caribbean. We are a home away from home for Caribbean students and those of Caribbean descent. SOCA is open to everyone, especially those interested in learning all things the Caribbean.”

Moving forward in the academic year, one of the goals SOCA had in the Student Multicultural Center was to increase their engagement with the Caribbean student population. Thompson said, “We recognize that this was a group present on campus. We had students who identified as the Caribbean, but not necessarily a single space where they could come together, share in that identity and celebrate the diversity of the Caribbean. So we want to do just that.”

Thompson was born and raised in the Bahamas and said she knows it’s a difficult process, finding your people and celebrating your identity as you go off to college or out into the world, but rebuilding SOCA this semester has helped her to establish those connections. She said, “This is the purpose of SOCA, for me.” 

President Angelique Wong is American-born but “culturally raised” in the Caribbean tradition, with her parents originating from Guyana. Guyana is an English-speaking country in South America known for its lush rainforests and calypso music. The country is associated with the Caribbean but is the only part of the Caribbean that’s not an island. 

Guyana also has roots in English colonization. This history results in British colonial architecture and culture overtaking the Caribbean culture at times. However, Caribbean people are beginning to reclaim their identities and fighting the erasure of their history due to that colonization. 

At home in Maryland now, Wong plans SOCA’s revival from home. Wong says that coming to Kent, for her, was a bit of a culture shock. “Coming to Kent from Maryland, we are a very diverse area here. There are literally people from everywhere here, so I’m used to being surrounded by my culture. If you go to the right place, you’re going to be surrounded by people that you know and who relate to you culturally, people who have similar values and understandings. And so, coming to Kent was a little bit different because it’s totally not like that.”     

Wong explains that her motivation to restore the group stems from her search for identity after leaving home. “I wanted to find people that were similar to myself, and I knew something had previously existed [for Caribbean identifying students] before I got there,” she said. “So I started reaching out to people who I knew were involved in it that were still on campus because a lot of students had graduated, which is something that happens with a lot of [student] organizations. When you have older grads who are coming and getting involved in doing the work, you have to find someone who’s next to take over.” 

Despite the challenges, she says the group is working on bringing SOCA back and making their dreams for the organization a reality. For now, the following year is uncertain, but SOCA’s planning team is working hard to ensure the revival of the group as soon as possible, COVID-19 restrictions permitting. 

Wong said, “These last couple of months, we were able to build a team of people, but obviously, we don’t know what it’s going to look like. But we now know how to take a new approach towards making SOCA into the organization we all know it can be.”

Wong says for her, this revival of Caribbean culture at Kent State is personal. She hopes she can provide her younger sister, a freshman, the opportunity to connect with a community of like-minded people as she comes into the school, something Wong says she didn’t have coming in. Wong said, “When you’re new to any place, it helps to have somewhere you can go that feels like a grounding base of what you’re used to, one that even gives you a little bit of confidence to branch out when you have that base of people to connect with.”  

She hopes that her legacy will be a positive one for all students looking for their place here at Kent, saying, “That’s definitely our goal, to be able to have that safe space for students of similar backgrounds and also students who want to learn about who we are as a Caribbean community.” 

SOCA’s Faculty Advisor, Charmaine Crawford, is a feminist educator and social justice advocate. She has fought for People of African Descent, women and LGBTQ persons in African/Caribbean diasporic communities. 

Crawford is from Trinidad but was raised in Toronto, Canada. She said, “My lived experience as a Caribbean immigrant girl in Canada was connected to Trinidad and other parts of the Caribbean, but as I grew, the work that I started in school, in undergrad, linked to the Caribbean region in terms of international development. In particular, gender and development in the Caribbean and that would take me further along to my Ph.D. work that looked at Caribbean women migration and domestic work.” 

Now, she looks forward to supporting SOCA in its revival efforts. “In terms of SOCA, I’m certainly happy that we’re trying to bring back the representation because Kent is a smaller space in understanding, even in thinking about the Caribbean experience of students and faculty. So, I’m definitely here to lend my support in the programming and academics, and also for some sense of community in relation to Caribbean culture.” 

SOCA is also establishing relationships with other cultural organizations at Kent State to honor the intersections of identity on campus. Thompson said, “For me, I think there’s so much opportunity in continuing this collaboration with other identity centers within the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion pillars and the Division of Student Affairs with other cultural groups to foster more dialogue and programs that address issues going on in the Caribbean and how Caribbean immigrants and people make sense of their living spaces in the US.”

The group emphasized that before this semester, they did a great deal of assessment in the SMC to figure out the needs of Caribbean-identifying students. Thompson said, “A lot of [students] talked about having space where they could just celebrate themselves, connect with others, have programs that highlighted food, music, culture, like a taste of the Caribbean of some sort. And think that, with a lot of planning, it’s something that’s very possible.” 

Looking forward, Thompson said, “There’s a lot to celebrate when we talk about Caribbean history, culture and people, and so I look forward to our students being able to go about that in the best way possible. Just [continue to] increase that knowledge and awareness among the Kent State community.” 

For those interested in learning more about SOCA, you can visit their Instagram or Twitter pages for meeting information, event updates and more. You can also reach out to them over email at [email protected]

Brianna Camp covers diversity. Contact them at [email protected].