Baruch Students Learn About Corruption and Courage in Haiti Before and After the Earthquake

A Teach-In Combines History, Sociology, and Music

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The Baruch College Haiti teach-in, held on Thursday, February 4, 2010 in the fifth floor amphitheater of the Newman Vertical Campus gave the College community sharp, sometimes uncomfortable, insights into the history, politics, and culture of the island nation that has endured so much in the 200 years since its independence from France.

Haiti Teach-in

Organized by Professor Ted Henken, chair of the Department of Black and Hispanic Studies, and co-sponsored by the Department of Sociology and several student organizations, the event featured several speakers and musician Frisner Augustin, Artistic Director of La Troupe Makandal, who gave the audience a sample of the power of Haitian drumming. The music was not incidental — it bespoke the crucial importance of spirituality, dance, and song in Haitian culture.

Speakers, including Professor Carolle Charles, Baruch sociologist and advocate for the Haitian women’s movement, discussed the impact of last month’s disastrous earthquake on a country that J. Michael Dash of NYU characterized as “the longest experiment in neo-colonialism in the Western world.” Charles, who is Haitian herself, called her homeland a “very unequal and very unjust” society. Even the recent and partial empowerment of the Haitian people was not accomplished through the political process, Dash added, but rather through grassroots churches and information technology.

Ethnomusicologist and writer Ned Sublette provided a scathing media critique, noting that news coverage depicting “looting” in post-quake Port-au-Prince, was just one more instance of how Haiti and its people have been misrepresented in the mainstream media. In fact, he said, in the wake of the earthquake, peaceful and often heroic cooperation has prevailed. Sublette went on to suggest that the only true looting that has taken place in Haiti since the earthquake was the abduction of Haitian children by a group of ten Idaho Baptists now under indictment.

Carolyn Rose-Avila, a veteran development worker and vice president for Plan USA, a nonprofit organization that provides aid to poor children and their families, discussed the role of development and aid organizations in Haiti, noting that there are “more NGOs in Haiti than anywhere else in the Western world.” Her ascertain was that many of these aid organizations are in the business of profit making.

During the Q&A that followed the speaker presentations, a student asked what he could do to help the Haitian people. Respondents suggested volunteer work with a reputable organization such as the Center for International Disaster Information or the American Red Cross. They also urged young people to educate themselves about the true history and culture of Haiti — a history and culture significantly different from the many prevailing stereotypes.