Discussion, Photo Exhibit Highlight Celebration of Cuba at Niagara University

November 4, 2016  |  by Michael Freedman

  • Niagara University students and faculty members are pictured in Muraleando, a cultural center in Cuba where the group performed community service.

    Niagara University students and faculty members are pictured in Muraleando, a cultural center in Cuba where the group performed community service.

  • Fernando Funes, a famous horticulturalist, informs the students about a sustainable farm in Cuba called Finca Marta.

  • The Niagara University group goes for a hike in Vinales Valley.

  • Niagara University students and a Cuban community group enjoy fellowship after playing baseball.

Last spring, 22 Niagara University students and three faculty members engaged in an intensive field-based research course in Havana, Cuba.

On Nov. 3, several of the participants shared stories, reflections, photographs and research from their experience.

The event, which was hosted by NU’s Office of International Relations and department of political science, took place in the Castellani Art Museum.

As a result of the United States and Cuba re-establishing diplomatic relations in July 2015, Americans are permitted to travel to Cuba as long as their purpose falls within 12 broad categories of activities, including “educational activities by persons at academic institutions.”

Niagara University’s six-credit course on Cuban politics and society, which included the two-week stay in Havana, was led by professors David Reilly, Ph.D., and Chris Lee, Ph.D., and Nicole Gerber, Ph.D., emergency manager for Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

Student research topics included Cuban Cinema; the July 26 Movement; The Function of Committees for the Defense of the Revolution; Environmentalism and Environmental Law in Cuba; Revolutionary Transition from Batista to Castro; Mental Health Practices in Cuba; Race, Sexuality, and Gender Roles; African Roots of Cuban Culture; Socialist Economic Reform; Cuba’s Earth Summit; The Economic Revolution of Land Ownership; The Platt Amendment and its Effect on the Cuban Revolution; Obama’s Visit to Cuba; The Bay of Pigs: Cuba’s Turning Point; and The Execution of Che Guevara.

During their two weeks in Cuba, along with their scholarly work, the NU students played baseball with a Cuban community group, visited a polyclinic, learned about the Cuban Revolution, visited a sustainable farm, engaged in community service projects, and hiked through Viñales Valley.

Dr. Reilly, director of international studies and chair of the political science department at Niagara University, noted that the experience dramatically changed some students’ perspectives.

“We had one student who was from the College of Business Administration, and probably the staunchest defender of capitalism in our class,” Dr. Reilly told WBFO. “At the end of the trip, he said, and I’m quoting from him here, that ‘Cuba, in many ways, can be argued to be a much richer nation in terms of appreciation for life and happiness than America is, which makes it apparent to me that material possessions do not encompass the wealth of a person or nation.’”

During the Nov. 3 event, a photography exhibit by Roberto Chile, titled Fidel is Fidel, was also unveiled at the Castellani Art Museum. Chile’s work is a poignant exhibit of photographs of the Cuban leader that document him in his later years. The exhibit is comprised of 17 extraordinary images that are currently being shown around the world from now until the end of the year. It is co-sponsored by the International Committee for Peace, Justice and Dignity.