All posts by arigeshrouf

An Early Taste of the College Life

ARIGE SHROUF|

ST. CROIX – Students from the Juanita Gardine Elementary School toured the University of the Virgin Islands’ grounds as part of their school-wide cultural tour on Friday, May 8.

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A Look at the 5th Annual Playwrights in Paradise New Play Festival

LILIANA MORENO REYES |

ST. THOMAS – Anansi the spider, a Ukrainian “Mail Order Bride,” a polar bear and an ornery St. Thomian bus driver joined many other characters to create the 5th annual Playwrights in Paradise New Play Festival that took place in the UVI Little Theatre on Sunday, April 27, 2015.

Continue reading A Look at the 5th Annual Playwrights in Paradise New Play Festival

The Little Theater Painted Black

DAVID B. GUMBS |

ST. THOMAS – Thursday morning on March 12, 2015 was an ugly morning; a combination of steel-grey cloud bands choking the sunlight from the sky, along with a growing heat emanating from the ground made for muggy conditions across UVI’s St. Thomas campus. For Professor Pamela New and the students of her “Voice and Diction” class, their teaching space wasn’t much of an improvement: a dimly-lit, derelict mini-stage room within the second floor of the CAB building known only as “The Little Theater.”

The UVI Little Theater in its current state of disrepair. Photos: David B. Gumbs
The UVI Little Theater in its current state of disrepair.
Photo credit: David B. Gumbs

For many performers, students and Humanities professors, to say that conditions within UVI’s “Little Theater” are “humble” would be considered a gross understatement. The stage consists of little more than bare concrete flooring and rickety, raised plywood platforms covered with scattered screws and nails that have fallen from the patchwork ceiling, from where the stains of water damage and raw electrical cables hang exposed for all to see.

The seating consists of nothing more than 30 or so raggedy stadium chairs, some with a view of the stage that is obscured by the handful of ill-placed support beams that are strewn among the front row seats.

Completing the forlorn and creepy atmosphere, almost the entire room – from the derelict stage, to the splintery plywood walls, to the dilapidated ceiling, and even the aforementioned support beams – are covered in endless layers of thick black paint. Coupled with the non-existent sound system and lighting that operates seemingly on its own accord, the conditions of the old theater can be considered absolutely oppressive by modern standards, and unquestionably neglectful for a $40,000-a-year University.

Despite the horrendous conditions, however, the UVI Little theater and those who have dedicated themselves to the craft have given the island some of the most critically acclaimed performances in modern memory: plays such as The Lady of Param, Angels in the Snow, and the recent “Hubert Harrison” have all received universal praise and serve as powerful examples of the students’ dedication and talent for the arts.

The theater photo credit: David Gumbs
The theater’s sound and light control room
photo credit: David Gumbs

The performing arts are not the only discipline to feel the sting of the university’s neglect; a mere fifteen feet away from the foreboding darkness of that crumbling theater lay the offices of the Humanities: a cramped, narrow wooden trailer segmented into 12 claustrophobic rooms. Whereas fields such as mathematics or the sciences are given proper, expansive offices and supplies to properly conduct business, it would seem that the Humanities constantly find themselves shortchanged and disregarded at every turn, regardless of the success and acclaim that they earn.

In light of the praise and recognition that the Humanities (and the Little Theater in particular) earn for UVI, one question surfaces: “Despite UVI’s self-marketed identity as a “Liberal Arts” institution, is the university truly dedicated to the Arts?”

“The quick answer is ‘no,’” says Dr. Alexander Randall, a professor of communications. Fresh from his late afternoon communications class, his jovial, laid-back disposition brimming with energy nevertheless dims with frustration at the aforementioned inquisition. “No university gives enough support to the Humanities, yet cannot explain ‘why?’”

The Little Theater Sound and Lighting control room. Photo credit: David B. Gumbs
The Little Theater view obstructed by support beam
Photo credit: David B. Gumbs

Speculating on the reason behind the lack of support, he said “There’s more of a focus on ‘practicality’ versus ‘passion.’” An example of this alleged preferential treatment of the other disciplines over the Humanities lies in his recent successful campaign to add two new art classes to the curriculum.

“It took 2 years of constant battling with the Curriculum Committee, just to add those two classes,” said a weary and frustrated Dr. Randall. “All the while, they fought back by nitpicking over things like the font used in the required textbooks, or the margins in the report I had to submit. Then at the end of it, some guy from the Business department came in and casually requested, like, another set of textbooks and they immediately fast-tracked his request, without the two-year process I just had to go through; It’s very frustrating.”

One Humanities Professor, the resident playwright David Edgecombe, offers a more sympathetic, but similar view. With his salt-and-pepper hair askew and his eyes bloodshot from a lack of sleep, he sniffles and coughs throughout the interview, his illness stemmed not from a cold or flu, but rather from a flurry of preparations and last-minute adjustments; it is the premier night of his latest work at the Little Theater, a biopic play about the titular character, “Hubert Harrison.”

“The question of whether or not the Humanities are being marginalized is a difficult one,” he said. “Like anything, it’s a matter of costs; resources are scarce, and sometimes people aren’t attuned to looking at the arts. That’s not entirely the responsibility of the school; it falls also on the artist to promote the arts to the public.”

Other Humanities instructors, such as the aforementioned Pamela New, equate Dr. Randall’s views.

“”The Arts are being under-funded and are under-supported,” stated Professor New plainly, who despite suffering a sore shoulder earned during some household gardening, remains passionate and dedicated to the subject at hand. “The Humanities are being marginalized and are lacking support; Performances are being carried out in disreputable conditions with faulty equipment.”

Despite the various setbacks, restrictions and varied opinions on the matter, however, everyone agrees that the Humanities are still popular and important, not just for the school but the local community overall.

“Students are still interested,” Professor New said. “Students are still signing up for Humanities courses, Reichold Theater events bring in a great amount of capital for UVI, and most of the events such as the theater productions are usually sold out… So there is still definitely interest.”

According to Dr. Randall, “The arts are very important to local culture; the Humanities make us aware of the unknown, what it means, and inspires us.”

“Theater helps to understand the world and culture around us,” professor Edgecombe said, equating the views of Dr. Randall. “The concept of ‘education’ is progressively outpacing the institution of the ‘academy’ or the ‘school.’ If we are to avoid becoming an anachronism, we must learn to embrace a wide spectrum of subjects, rather than prioritizing some subjects over others.”

With the overall feeling of oppression by the bureaucratic masters of the school, the final question that arises from this subject is “what would these champions of the arts do differently, if given the authority to change the current status quo?”

Both Dr. Randall and Professor Edgecombe believe that the answers lie not with academic bureaucrats or high-minded college professors, but instead with high school students, and those who are not yet certain about their future.

“The management should treat the Humanities with respect,” Dr. Randall commented. “Instead of prioritizing one subject over another, we should be considering more high school rallies and career days, and convince the next generations on why college is important.”

“A ‘theater-in-education program would be a wonderful bridge between the humanities and other education departments,” Professor New said. “Everyone remembers the teachers that engaged us through vibrant, dynamic communications skills and content… I would also restore the Little Theater, which would grant students a proper place to perform, while serving as a source of additional income to recoup the costs.”

Time will tell whether or not the gulf between UVI’s business side and artistic side can be mended. Until then, that darkened antechamber of theatrical wonders will remain in its dilapidated repose, and both Professor New and her students will continue their performances within the little theater painted black.

A Long Way From Home: International Students at U.V.I

LILIANA MORENO REYES |

ST. THOMAS – The international students and the diversity they bring, lend quite a bit to the melting pot of the University of the Virgin Islands’ population. At UVI the population comprises American students, other Caribbean students and a small mixture of students from foreign countries. These students play an influential role in aspects of the university experience. Their impact extends to the economic, cultural and educational spheres.

Among other things, international students weigh heavily on the economic scale. They are required to pay tuition and other fees which are generally higher, than for resident students. In some instances, they are required to rent apartments, which in effect requires that they purchase food, buy groceries and take transportation to and from school and other places.

Aside from academia, students require some level of entertainment which oftentimes leads them to visit popular sites around the island, ‘hang out’ and spend money. To some extent, international students merit the same value as tourists. To say the least, they can be considered as tourists on an extended stay.

With various languages such as English, Spanish, French and others, international students bring a variety of slangs, phrases and dialects. Their unique languages encourage the bilingual spirit of some students who are interested in adopting the language of another country.

The overall varying lifestyle of international students introduces a new dimension to other students. Their differences in fashion, food preferences, norms and customs are all intertwined as they share the same temporary home.

The myriad of religious beliefs brought by international students help to open other student’s minds to what lies beyond their own culture. In essence, international students bring to the university a new way of life, a different culture.

An international student on the St. Thomas campus "hanging out" and enjoying island life.
An international student on the St. Thomas campus “hanging out” and enjoying island life. (photo credit: Liliana Morenoreyes)

Although all students come to UVI with the common goal of learning, international students bring with them a variety of different learning techniques which they are able to share. Similarly, students engaging in foreign languages can seek the assistance of international students who possess these languages as their first language. Peer tutoring is an asset to any learning institution as it is understood that while students may not grasp concepts taught by their professors, it is sometimes easier to understand material explained by a peer. Also, international students are known to excel even beyond their academic disciplines. Their involvement in a number of extracurricular activities helps them to stand out among other students.

It is fair to claim that international students serve an important role among the general UVI student population. It is understood that due to their different backgrounds, they possess a host of differences compared to resident students. Thus, when all the international students, American, other Caribbean and a small mixture of others are combined with the resident students, it produces a melting pot, a diverse university.

SGA Election Results Announced

CORLISS SMITHEN |

ST. THOMAS – The results of the Student Government Association elections have been announced.

A week after the student body on the St. Thomas campus went to the polls to vote for the candidates of their choice, the SGA Elections Committee published the results in a general campus email on Wednesday morning.

According to the correspondence, the following students have been elected to serve as SGA officers for the upcoming academic school year 2015-2016:

President-elect: Yohance Henley
Vice President-elect: Cashkim Bussue
Treasurer-elect: Tonya Greene
Senior Senator-elects: Tonecia Rogers and Michelle Malone
Junior Senator-elects: Lisa-Marie Hodge and DeWein Pelle
Sophmore Senator-elects: Denine Hurtault and Kaunda Williams

(not pictured below: Michelle Malone and Kaunda Williams)

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In an interview with the UVI Voice, Rogers thanked those who supported her and said she is honored to serve in her new capacity for the seniors’ benefit.

“It’s an opportunity that I won’t take lightly,” Rogers said.

For his part, Pelle thanked his constituents, support group, and the UVI community.  He promised to “wholeheartedly dedicate my time and productivity in attempting to eradicate the grievances of the student body. We are all scintilla of the adept Virgin Islands environment. I intend to catapult our academic atmosphere by reintroducing and rebranding of academic programs such as assistance learning and expanding UVI outreach programs at the university to craft a congenial and altruistic relationship with the VI community.”

Greene said it is a wonderful feeling that the students entrusted their confidence in her to have her work on their behalves.

“I want to thank the students for giving me an opportunity to serve on the SGA,” she said.

The other elected members could not be reached for comment.

Students also voted on the referendum question: Do you think the Student Government Association members should receive adequate compensation each semester?  A total of 248 students voted “yes,” while 78 indicated that they were not in favor of SGA members getting paid, according to the Elections Committee.

The day following the elections, Director of Student Activities Leon Lafond notified the student body via email that the results “have been postponed to accommodate some write-in candidates who have to be certified by the Access and Enrollment Services in order to declare their candidacy.”

Then, four days later, Lafond issued another e-mail to inform students of a further delay in announcing the outcome.  “On behalf of the SGA Elections & Grievance Committees, there have been some inquiries about the official results for the 2015 Student Governance and Leadership elections,” the email read. I regret to inform you that the announcement has to be postponed due to unfortunate circumstances. At this present time, there are some grievances filed that need to be addressed accordingly.”

Meanwhile, the Student Representative to the Board of Trustees has not yet been named as the elections committee is awaiting the results from the Albert A. Sheen Campus on St. Croix.

The swearing-in ceremony for the SGA is scheduled for the fall semester.  No date has yet to be set.

College Without the Classroom: How Online and Video-Conference Classes at UVI Compare to Traditional Courses

ARIGE SHROUF |

ST. CROIX — It’s 4 o’clock on a Monday afternoon as Sarah Jagrup heads to her first class of the new semester. A brief glance at her schedule indicates she has Caribbean Literature in room 401 from 4-5:15 p.m. She is unaware that the class is a video conference course or that the professor is on St. Thomas as she enters the theater in the Evans Center Building.

She walks in to find the room in complete darkness and completely empty. Sarah double-checks the room and time on her schedule. Reassured, she turns on the lights and makes her way to the center of the room as she waits for her classmates and her professor to arrive.

Ten minutes pass and nothing happens. She is still alone in the largest classroom on campus. Sarah decides to investigate why no one is there and finds out that the class is video conference, so she heads to the library to get help from the IT department.

After a thorough investigation to determine which classroom the class is being held on in St. Thomas, the helpful IT technician connects Sarah with her class on St. Thomas.

When the connection goes through, she finds they have been conducting class without her for the last 30 minutes. She is the only student registered for the course on St. Croix while there are about 17 or 18 students on St. Thomas. A single person missing is easily overlooked.

Touch screen display which controls the video conference equipment.  (photo credit: uvi.edu)
Touchscreen display which controls video conference equipment.

Sarah goes through this tedious process of trying to connect with her professor and classmates on St. Thomas every Monday and Wednesday afternoon. She makes it a habit to contact IT before making her way to her class since she anticipates an endless list of issues with the equipment. She is at a total loss on how to operate the video conference equipment herself until six weeks into the semester, when an IT technician decides to show her how to operate the technology.

As an education major, Sarah has to have a certain amount of patience, but she confesses that after several days of dealing with lags, glitches, missing out on class time, and being overlooked, her patience was at an all-time low.

“It was horrible and disappointing to me. I was lost and really fed up with the course,” Sarah said. “I could not wait for it to be over.”

“I felt like the ugly duckling, and I was at a total disadvantage,” Sarah said. “It should not be that bad, but it is. The people on the other side just don’t understand our frustration.”

After such a horrible experience, Sarah developed an aversion to video conference classes, but she would soon realize that video conference and online classes are impossible to avoid at the University of the Virgin Islands, and in any case, it is a totally different experience when the professor is on St. Croix and the St. Croix students have the advantage.

Out of the roughly 330 classes currently being taught at UVI’s St. Croix campus – some of them repeated courses being taught by several professors or in different sections – 70 of them are video conference courses and 33 of them are online. Most of these courses are upper level courses and the professors are located on the St. Thomas campus. This means that about 31 percent of all classes being taught on the St. Croix campus are asynchronous upper level courses in which the student either never sees the professor or in which the professor is merely one of several faces on a screen.

Online and video conference courses do have their advantages because they allow students to have access to more classes and more professors than one campus provides. Online courses in particular can also be more convenient for commuter and non-traditional students who have busy lives and have a harder time making it to classes on a regular basis.

Despite the advantages, students and even some professors seem to prefer regular classes to online or video conference classes.

Dr. David Gould, an English professor, prefers teaching in the classroom to teaching online because in online classes there is “not enough face to face communication and online classes encourage plagiarism.”

The login page for the site used to connect to classes online. (Photo credit – Arige Shrouf)
The login page for the site used to connect to classes online.
(Photo credit – Arige Shrouf)

“I prefer regular classes in a single classroom in which I can interact with the professor and my classmates more effectively,” Corwin Commabatch, a junior majoring in business administration said. “But online classes represent a challenge that can be useful for when we graduate and we are on our own.”

According to Commabatch, online classes force students to be more responsible, to “learn to adjust and be professional” and they are more convenient because they allow him to work at his own pace.

Dr. Valerie Combie, a Master Professor of English, certified to teach online classes said, “I always prefer regular classes. I like the interaction and I can assist students more when they are present in real life.”

“In video conference classes, it is harder to engage with the students,” Dr. Gould said.

With about 88 percent of junior and senior level English courses, 85 percent of upper level communications courses, 58 percent of criminal justice courses, 50 percent of accounting courses and 35 percent of upper level psychology courses – just to name a few – currently being taught online or via video conference, UVI professors and students are no strangers to the varied class formats and most have their preferences.

Zohn Fleming, a sophomore speech communication and theater major said, “I like the video conference classes better because I get to hear a lot of different opinions from students on both or all three campuses. I wish more of my classes were video conference, but I don’t like online classes because I just keep forgetting to do the work.”

With asynchronous classes, it sometimes seems to be a case of “out of sight, out of mind.”

“The video conference class got to the point where I just did what I had to do and nothing more. I would sit in class and be on my phone or iPad the whole time because no one cared,” Sarah Jagrup said. “My interest was not there at all because there was a total disconnect and I was left out. I wished I had more access to my professor.”

“I can’t engage in an online class when the professor is on St. Thomas, but now that I am a senior, I just don’t care anymore,” Sarah said.

“I don’t think it’s fair for students on the remote campus,” Dr. Combie said.

Sophia Horsford, a junior majoring in criminal justice said, “the professors in St. Thomas are hard to get in contact with and if more of our classes were regular classes with just St. Croix, we would have no technical difficulties.”

I would prefer if more of my classes were regular/traditional classes because in class it’s more personal,” Olinger Augustin, a sophomore majoring in communications said. “You don’t have to yell over to the camera and you are more likely to be remembered.”

Shanah Bannis, a senior psychology major said, “I prefer regular classes for the interaction and online classes for the convenience, but in video conference courses is it not easy to engage both sides.”

Despite the challenges of asynchronous courses, they play a crucial role in our campus and, when the technology works and the students are kept engaged, these courses can be effective and provide the campus with a useful resource to connect with not only St. Thomas but St. John as well. Without video conference and online courses, there would be over 100 fewer classes at UVI and taking the necessary classes would be an even greater challenge for students trying to graduate in a timely manner.

Video conference classroom in the St. John Academic Center, allowing students to connect with the two main UVI campuses.  (photo credit: uvi.edu)
Video conference classroom in the St. John Academic Center, allowing students to connect with the two main UVI campuses.
(photo credit: uvi.edu)

“I actually like VC classes,” Dr. Gillian Royes, a communications professor said. “It can be fun with small classes where the students on both campuses get to discuss issues together.”

“Providing video-conferencing and on-line courses provides a service to those who may not otherwise have the opportunity to matriculate,” Nancy W. Morgan, a professor of education, said. “With a motivated student, is not ‘something’ better than ‘nothing’?”

For students like Sarah Jagrup who have had horrible experiences with online or video conference classes, that motivation is hard to come by or maintain.

“At the end of the day,” Sarah said, “you just have to suck it up and get used to it because more and more of your classes are going to be online or video conference.”

Black History Month at HBCU: Is UVI Living Up to the Hype?

ARIGE SHROUF |

ST. CROIX— Black History Month at a Historically Black University should be a grand event, but many students feel the University of the Virgin Islands is not doing enough to acknowledge the importance of the tradition this year.

UVI students acknowledge the importance of Black History Month to them and to our community. Even when they are unaware of its origins, they understand the importance of upholding the tradition of the celebration.

Black History Month was initialized as “Negro History Week” in 1926 by Dr. Woodson and was expanded by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) to encompass an entire month in 1976.

In 1986, the observance of Black History Month was passed into law and has since been a symbol of the accomplishments of African Americans.

When interviewed, over twenty students admitted to feeling as though UVI could be doing more this February to really highlight the achievements of African Americans and embrace the spirit of Black History Month.

“It is a celebration of everything that was done to pave our way,” SGA President Sophia Johnson said. “It should really be celebrated more than just one month out of the year.”

“Black History Month means freedom. It is a way of saying ‘we matter, we are here,’ and of allowing our actions to show who we really are,” said Gabriel Lawrence, a senior member of Brothers with a Cause.

The Black History Month display at Counselling and Career Services
The Black History Month display at Counseling and Career Services

“I believe Black History is very important to our culture,” senior Jermaine Tavernier said. “We could find more creative ways to celebrate.”

“Black History Month is about recognizing all the great people that came before us,” sophomore Kennisha Grant said. “We are not really doing enough; UVI could do more.”

“I like to be wowed during Black History Month, and I am not being wowed,” junior Pamela Muhammad said.

These seem to be common feelings among the UVI community.

Judith Rogers, Director of Libraries at UVI, said Black History Month is “an opportunity to celebrate the contributions of blacks to the development of the world overall.”

“It is a time to reflect and let the past motivate you to move forward and stay away from negativity,” said Paulette Jarvis, a recent graduate of the nursing program.

“If we want to shine the blacks, we need to shine our history,” Gabriel Lawrence said. “We would not be where we are today without it and we need to improve our efforts.”

But is UVI coming up short in honoring and observing Black History Month, or are students simply too busy or unwilling to take part in the events that are taking place?

Paulette Jarvis said, “I never have time to participate on campus, so I don’t really know what’s going on.” She admits that she has heard of some events happening on campus, but she does not pay them much attention. She is simply too busy to participate.

This seems to be true of many students on campus.

According to Sophia Johnson, “the biggest challenge in planning any event on campus is actually getting them involved.”

In an effort to encourage UVI students to participate, the UVI libraries have had 34 African Arts Panels on display all month long.

Students can stop for a few minutes at a time and learn something about Black Heritage.

Many members of the UVI community have stopped to admire the exhibit.

African Arts Display at the library on the Albert A. Sheen campus. -Arige Shrouf
African Arts Display at the library on the Albert A. Sheen campus.
(photo credit -Arige Shrouf)

Judith Rogers hopes students will “engage with the exhibit and learn from it.”

“Too many phenomenal contributions go unknown,” Rogers said. “It is for the students, but we can’t do it on our own; there needs to be collaboration for us to have a well-rounded curriculum.”

This month there were several activities on campus that highlighted the accomplishments of African Americans.

On Monday, Feb. 9, Student Government Association hosted an event outside student activities which highlighted the contributions of George Washington Carver.

SGA makes peanut punch outside student activities in honor of George Washington Carver.  (photo credit - Arige Shrouf)
SGA makes peanut punch outside student activities in honor of George Washington Carver.
(photo credit – Arige Shrouf)

According to SGA Vice-President Janelle Royer, the 30 person turnout met their expectations and she felt accomplished simply seeing the students enjoying a cup of peanut punch and dancing to the music played by the DJ.

But a 30 person turnout is rather big for UVI.

When SGA hosted its event in honor of Ben Carson on Tuesday, only ten students participated in the brain dissection at the RT Park.

Students watch as biology students, Nakeisha Prantice and Chenae Allen, dissect sheep brains.   (photo credit - Arige Shrouf)
Students watch as biology students, Nakeisha Prantice and Chenae Allen, dissect sheep brains.
(photo credit – Arige Shrouf)

The annual Man-Up event hosted on Wednesday was followed up by a tribute to the inventor of ice cream, Augustus Carver, on Thursday. Both events had much larger turnouts than other events this month.

This month Counseling and Career Services is also hosting a quote contest and several clubs and organizations have hosted movie viewings.

There will likely continue to be more small events throughout the month, but if students are not participating, will it ever be enough?

“We are doing as much as we can and as much as we think will be successful and have an audience,” Judith Rogers said.

Sophia Johnson said, “We are doing our best to create an interactive environment this month. We are trying to focus our efforts on stuff people will like and participate in.”

Gabriel Lawrence said he suggests we really take this time this month and use this opportunity to “show and shine the Blacks.”

We need make the most out of Black History Month this year and every year to come. This is an opportunity to make the university community acknowledge why it should be “proud to be an HBCU,” Lawrence said.