THE University of the West Indies (UWI) honoured over 70 of its graduates with the opening of 70+ Outstanding Women, an exhibition at the Alma Jordan Library, St Augustine. Many of the honourees, women who have graduated from UWI’s three campuses in its 70-year history, were there to receive awards as part of the event last Thursday. They included Prof Patricia Mohammed, Prof Bridget Brereton, Prof Neela Badrie, Dr Merle Hodge and Dr Shirin Haque. Posthumus honours went to Dr Pat Bishop and Dana Seetahal.
Project founder and head Prof Opal Palmer Adisa said at the event the list had been whittled to 77 from 255 possible names. In the programme, she wrote, “This project grew out of the desire, as well as a sense of responsibility, to showcase the exceptional women that The UWI has produced, in diverse fields, on all of its campuses. One individual has been selected to represent each class from 1948 to the present.”
At the event Adisa, director of the UWI Mona Institute for Gender and Development Studies (IGDS), said the project has three parts: the exhibition, a coffee table book to be published by UWI Press in March, and a “path to career” curriculum for women and girls.
Caribbean “girls are still thinking in traditional ways” about their career choices, she said. One of the women on the list is Dr Erouscilla Joseph, the first PhD in volcanology at UWI; Haque, the first and only astronomer in the Caribbean, is another. The list includes writers, historians, linguists, engineers, physicians, lawyers, politicians. President Paula-Mae Weekes is on it, and former prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, and former UWI St Augustine deputy principal Prof Rhoda Reddock.
Adisa plans to interview as many of the women as possible about their career paths; the interviews will be shown on UWI TV, she said.
The exhibition of photos and some awardees’ theses will continue in the ground floor of the library until January. It then moves to Mona and later to Cave Hill. It is part of UWI’s 70th anniversary celebrations. Adisa said she conceived of it because there was nothing in the anniversary programme specifically about women.
Pro vice-chancellor for Graduate Studies and Research Prof Stephan Gift, in his remarks at the opening, celebrated the achievements of the women. However, he said, despite progress, constrains and deprivations still keep women out of tertiary education. Women face poverty, gender-based violence, under-representation in government and leadership, and other forms of discrimination, he said.
Singer/songwriter Dr Charleston Thomas performed at the opening, singing a song which he said was “a direct response to The Shadow of the Whip”, Hodge’s 1972 essay linking the prevalence of intimate partner and child abuse in the Caribbean to the region’s history of slavery and its concomitant brutality. “Are we in the 16th century? Are we in the 17th century? Where are we now?” he sang.
Mohammed, feminist filmmaker and a former IGDS head herself, who was chosen from the Class of 1976 and gave remarks on behalf of the awardees, noted that on UWI’s 70th anniversary its enrolment is 70 per cent female. Earlier, Alma Jordan librarian Frank Soodeen said in his remarks that women had begun to outnumber men among students at UWI, St Augustine, in 1982. The campus now has two female students to each male.
Dr Gabrielle Hosein, head of the St Augustine IGDS, chaired the function. She said the women awarded showed that The UWI was “educating Caribbean people for Caribbean transformation.”