First-Year Students Expand Their View of Social Justice with Trip to Trinidad
When Nijal Morgan ’20 applied to go to on a fall break Social Justice Experience trip to Trinidad, he had never been out of the country.
The first-year political science student from Robeson County, North Carolina, boarded the plane with the intentions of experiencing a new culture and learning more about social justice, a topic he is passionate about.
“I was just really excited to be in a new atmosphere and see if it felt different when people drive on different sides of the road and there’s a different currency,” Morgan said. “Just being immersed, basically, into a different culture than what I had always known.”
The trip was co-sponsored by Carolina Housing and the Center for Global Initiatives with the goal of providing immersive opportunities for first-year students on the topics of social justice and diversity. The program began in the Spring 2015 semester, when 15 first-year students took a trip to the International Civil Rights Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Trinidad and Tobago, a former British colony that gained independence in 1962, is incredibly diverse. Its largest ethnic groups are Indo-Trinidadians, descended from indentured servants from the Indian subcontinent, and Afro-Trinidadians, descended largely from enslaved Africans. Each group makes up about a third of the country’s population.
The UNC students met with Rhoda Reddock, deputy principal of the University of the West Indies St. Augustine Campus, who talked with them about problems the university and country are facing related to poverty, drugs and education.
Morgan said while he was used to being an underrepresented man of color in the United States, he expected it to be different in Trinidad; yet, he found that men of color were still underrepresented at the university level. The provost explained that because of the country’s economic problems and the drug routes that run through Trinidad, many men of color there do not get the opportunity to go to college.
“A lot of the young men of color get caught up [in the drug trade] in order to make money for their families…trying to pay for their sisters and other people in their family to go to college, rather than themselves,” Morgan said. “So [college is] not something they see as attainable, and that was something that really stuck out to me.”
Morgan, who identifies as both African American and Native American, explained his passion for social justice is rooted in his experiences of prejudice and segregation in his home community. He is currently involved in numerous student organizations at UNC focused on social justice, including the Black Student Movement, Minority Men of Color program, Carolina Indian Circle and many more.
The trip shifted his understanding of what social justice activism looks like in a transnational context, causing Morgan to consider how the economic and political relationships between states change the work of activist communities working across borders.
Hazael Andrew, assistant director of First Year Experience and Multicultural Competency for Carolina Housing, led the trip. He explained the program was developed to give first-year students a chance to leave campus and interact and develop relationships with others from diverse backgrounds and identities.
The program is designed for first-year students who have had little to no travel experience and who may not get the opportunity otherwise. Andrew said students usually return from these trips with a new appreciation and outlook on life.
“My favorite part was seeing the students learn and grow,” Andrew said. “Many of them had not been on an airplane before or been to a different country. Seeing them deal with a currency other than the U.S. dollar and eat food that was unique to Trinidad was fascinating to see and experience.”
While in Trinidad, the students toured the University of the West Indies, explored Maracas Bay and attended a Diwali celebration, the Hindu festival of lights. Morgan said one of the biggest takeaways from the trip came from the festival.
“There were so many people there, and it was not just East Indians,” he said. “[The different cultures are] appreciative of each other and on a wide-scale.”
Reflecting on the trip, Morgan explained, “In some ways, every opportunity is a privilege. A lot of times, we like to displace privilege, put it into certain categories and then outside of that, it doesn’t exist, but that’s not true.”
He elaborated, “Even though I might have grown up in a lot of ways disadvantaged or marginalized, I still had certain opportunities that other people, especially in Trinidad, for example, couldn’t have.”
After the trip, Morgan thinks it’s even more important for students to have an international experience to expand their perspective and deepen their understanding of their field of study.
“I definitely think everybody should have an international experience…you should expose yourself as much as possible to different cultures and different areas,” Morgan said.