Cultural student groups on campus take pride in UM’s hemispheric approach to diversity.
Recognized as “the most engaged institution of higher education in the state of Florida,” the University of Miami is home to over 270 student clubs and organizations that cultivate the development of student leaders beyond the classroom. Each organization aims to elevate student life by sharing their passions and interests with the greater UM community. Among these engaged student groups, many come together to embrace the cultures and traditions found in Cuba and the Caribbean.
Translating Cuban Traditions
Best known for the occasional cafecito takeover on campus, UM’s Cuban student organization has much more to offer than coffee.
Commonly referred to as FEC, the Federación de Estudiantes Cubanos has been dedicated to keeping Cuban culture alive and present in the UM community for 50 years. As one of UM’s most tenured student groups, the FEC first shared its passion for Cuban culture in 1970 by hosting the inaugural “Cuban Culture Week.” Since then, the group has made some changes to the week-long celebration, but the passion for sharing Cuban culture remains.
“The Week of Cuban Culture gives FEC an opportunity to invite the UM community to share our enthusiasm for Cuban culture,” says FEC Vice President Patricia Colon. “As a group, we enjoy sharing the typical traditions like art, food and music, but we also use the time to engage the community in aspects of philanthropy and leadership related to Cuban culture,” says Colon, a junior majoring in political science and international studies.
About the Photo
Patricia Colon, vice president of FEC (Federación de Estudiantes Cubanos), enjoys cafecito with fellow FEC members during the 2016 Week of Cuban Culture.
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Aside from the week of celebration, the organization actively collaborates with other groups to support the general need for student engagement.
According to Colon, FEC is especially unique as a cultural organization because most of the members aren’t of Cuban descent.
“When people think about FEC, they typically think about Cuban food and coffee,” says Colon, who is from Miami and whose family is Colombian and Puerto Rican. “But the impact of the organization is so much greater than what appears on the surface,” she adds.
“FEC has helped me grow as a student in many ways,” says Colon. “With the support of the organization I have had the opportunity to interact with many diverse student groups and members of the UM community. My respect for different cultural traditions has grown immensely and I am a much better student and person because of my time as a member,” she adds.
Haitian Students Share Culture, Arts and More
The Haitian student organization, Planet Kreyol is active on- and off-campus, and seeks to share information about their country with fellow students and the community. Due to an unprecedented number of natural disasters to hit the island nation in recent years, the student group has also led community outreach to raise attention to Haiti’s recovery efforts and solicit donations to aid victims of the 2010 earthquake that struck Port-au-Prince, flooding from Hurricane Ike in 2008 and most recently a swath of damage left by Hurricane Matthew in 2016.
Students Introduce Caribbean Culture on Campus
The members of UM’s Caribbean Student Association (CSA) offer insight into the many cultures and traditions found among the people of the Caribbean Islands. The diversity within the organization is so vast that it is often difficult to group them as one. Despite the distance and differences between their island upbringings, the members of CSA lean on their shared love of Caribbean culture to bring them together.
Ivory Battle, president of CSA, shared the importance of cultural student groups on campus.
“To students from the Caribbean, CSA can provide the comforts of home by embracing familiar cultural traditions,” says Battle, a senior majoring in sociology. “For students not of Caribbean descent, the organization encourages the exchange of ideas and experiences and gives everyone the opportunity to learn about Caribbean culture.”
CSA embraces cultural diversity and the association takes pride in sharing their own traditions with the UM community at large. During “Carib Week,” the group showcases various aspects of Caribbean culture through food tastings, leadership development workshops and Carnival-like celebrations.
“We want to encourage students to learn about our culture and get a feel of the Caribbean,” says Battle, who is from Miami.
When not sharing its love of the Caribbean with the UM community, CSA also works with chapters throughout the state of Florida during the annual Florida Caribbean Student Association Conference. The conference invites students to discuss opportunities related to philanthropy, research and activism with an emphasis on networking, leadership and professional development.
As active members in the UM community, CSA brings the undeniable energy of the Caribbean to campus and they eagerly invite their peers to help them “celebrate their unparalleled vivacity at the U!”
Focused on the Future of Engineering in Cuba
As one of three national student chapters, the Association of Cuban-American Engineers (ACE) at the University of Miami has long embraced the need to support Cuban professionals. In the 1960s, the Association assisted Cuban engineers with their transition to the United States. As experienced engineers from Cuba entered the United States, ACE formalized a way to certify degrees awarded from the University of Havana and standardized the process for taking licensing exams; allowing many exiles to work in the U.S.
Today, the students of UM’s ACE have adapted their mission to better serve Cuban-American engineers and the UM community.
“As a group, we enjoy teaming up with other organizations on campus to support social events and interdisciplinary research,” says Eric Milton, president of the UM chapter. “Because ACE supports all aspects of engineering, we are also able to collaborate on projects that encompass our different areas of interest,” adds Milton.
Recently, these interests have focused on engineering and infrastructure challenges in Cuba. Throughout the year and during the annual Cuba Infrastructure Challenge, the organization works closely with their peers and other ACE chapters across the state to analyze and provide solutions for various aspects of Cuba’s infrastructure.
According to Milton, a Cuban-American, the organization has not had the opportunity to travel to Cuba for their research projects. Instead, the group works closely with faculty from the College of Engineering who are able to provide accurate insight into the real-life problems that can be addressed through engineering.
“Through a network of UM faculty and alumni, we have the ability to work alongside and support other engineers with interest in Cuba,” says Milton, a senior majoring in software engineering. “As a member of ACE at UM, I have been able to meet and work with many successful Cuban-Americans that have made an impact on society.”
Though the ACE is mostly comprised of Cuban-Americans, the organization welcomes everyone with interest in Cuban engineering. For interested students, the organization regularly co-sponsors events with other student groups and can sometimes be found playing dominoes outside of the UM College of Engineering building.
- JENNIFER PALMA / UM News