By Maya Earls
Local professors and government officials are hammering out a spring proposal to create New York City’s first Haitian Studies Institute at the City University of New York, Brooklyn College.
If approved, the institute will house research and create opportunities to study many subjects important to the Haitian community. Brooklyn College President Karen Gould suggested the college’s borough, an area with the city’s largest concentration of Haitian descendants, as the future location. Like the Institute for Irish American Studies and Dominican Studies at CUNY, the new institute could provide education on the history of Haitian people and the identity of Haitians living in other countries.
Margarett Alexandre, assistant professor of nursing at York College and member of the executive committee for the Haitian institute, said one of the goals is to provide a space where people can come together to understand the Haitian community.
“There are all aspects of Haiti, and I think that’s what we want students to understand,” Alexandre said. “You cannot judge a country and you cannot judge a people without really understanding who they are and where they come from.”
The idea for the institute was several years in the making, according to Assistant Vice President of Brooklyn College communications Jason Carey. With CUNY celebrating a history of promoting diversity through other institutes, Carey said there was a natural conversation between professors and local leaders to create a Haitian Studies Institute along the same model.
“There’s definitely excitement and support for a lot of different reasons,” Carey said.
Both City Tech and Queens College have hosted events in the past to gather more support by students and members of the community. City Tech hosted an event titled, “Images of Haiti in U.S. Society” Oct. 15, and speakers discussed the history of the occupation of Haiti at a Nov. 4 event at Queens College.
“Right now it’s more [about] getting support from the different CUNY schools, the faculty, the students and the community,” Alexandre said.
Members of the New York state government have recently announced their support for the institute, including Senator Kevin Parker, Assembly member Rodneyse Bichotte and City Council Member Jumaane D. Williams.
Other than getting enough support, Carey said the institute faces the challenge of finding proper funding. Research grants, donations from the public or private sector and support from a major foundation could all play a factor in the future.
“Our city elected officials will provide funding to start,” Carey said. “And then, of course, the advisory board and the director will have the job of funding the thing and transitioning to a self-sustaining entity.”
A conference to gain more support for the institute is scheduled for April 14 – 16 2016, but Carey expects the proposal will be approved before then. For the future, Alexandre said she wants the institute to be a place for research not only focused on Haitians but also other communities within the African diaspora.
“I think the biggest hope I can see is the creation of the institute,” Alexandre said. “For Haitian scholars as well as other members of the diaspora to have an area where they can all come together and really create a narrative for the research that they’re doing.”