Five Spider Student-Athletes to Take Educational Journey to Cuba
RICHMOND, Va. – Leadership, social justice and sport are the common themes that five University of Richmond student-athletes will explore in an educational and cultural journey to Cuba as part of the Department of Athletics’ Global Leadership Immersion and International Education’s EnCompass Program.
“Providing international and cultural opportunities such as this visit to Cuba further advance the student-athlete experience here at the University of Richmond and helps us to provide a well-rounded educational and athletic experience for our student-athletes.,” Vice President and Director of Athletics John Hardt said. “Providing these opportunities to experience another country such as Cuba, affords our Spider student-athletes with invaluable educational and cultural opportunities to experience another area of the world and expand their educational horizons, while still being able to maintain their training commitments to their varsity programs.”
Junior men’s basketball student-athlete Grant Golden, sophomore women’s track student-athlete Kendra Smither, junior baseball student-athlete Tim Miller, junior field hockey student-athlete Abra Granger and redshirt freshman football student-athlete Nile Harris will take part in the immersive experience June 29-July 6.
“This is a really good opportunity and life experience that a lot of people don’t get the chance to do,” Golden said. “I am excited to go down there, see another culture and experience a different perspective. With all the time that we spend in the gym and on the court, the fact that we (student-athletes) can still do something like this in a condensed amount of time and have this experience, is really awesome for us and we are grateful to the University of Richmond.”
Under the guidance of Courtney Hughes, the Associate Director of Academics, the five student-athletes and Ms. Hughes will share a unique global leadership experience as they travel 90 miles south of Florida to Cuba, an island-nation that has always played an outsized role in the world’s affairs. Havana will serve as the student-athletes’ staging ground in Cuba — an ideal city for student-athletes to hone their Spanish language skills while absorbing and reflecting upon Afro-Cuban culture. With Havana and an excursion to Cienfuegos as backdrops, student-athletes will consider and reconsider Cuba’s recent past and its complex, historical relationship with the United States.
“Going to Cuba is an amazing, and rare, opportunity that I’m looking forward to,” Granger said. “Because travel to Cuba has become more difficult, this chance to experience Cuban culture firsthand is, potentially, a once in a lifetime experience. The itinerary planned for our trip has a wide variety of different Cuban adventures. I am going into this week long trip knowing that I will come back with life long memories.”
Upon their arrival in Cuba, the student-athletes will be struck by the prevalence of classic 1950s’ American cars that have become cultural representations of revolution, resistance and national pride. The mellifluous rhythm and flow of the island’s musical and performing arts will also be embraced as they enjoy traditional and modern dance ensembles born from Cuba’s Spanish, Cuban, and Afro-Cuban heritage. A private performance for the student-athletes by social justice jazz duo, La Reyna y Real, will conclude with a dialogue about stereotypes in Cuban society and the many challenges and opportunities young Cubans now face. Departing from Cienfuegos, the student-athletes will hike through the mountainous National Park of Guanayara that will afford them an opportunity to reflect upon their experiences.
“I’ve never been anywhere like Cuba,” Miller said. “I’m sure it will be a very eye-opening experience for all of us to see a culture completely different than ours. Being a history major, I’ve studied Cuba and can’t wait to get down there and actually experience the country firsthand. Obviously tensions are a little high between Cuba and America so experiencing what that is like will be more interesting than hearing about it on the news. Overall, I think Richmond and Ms. Hughes have done a great job putting together a program for us student athletes who are bound to our busy schedules to get abroad and experience that part of college that most UR students get to experience. I’m just lucky that I was asked to go on the trip.”
As a nation that has been shaped through historical confluences of resistance, rebellion and revolution, Cuba offers the student-athletes a tangible opportunity to learn and reflect upon the decision-making processes of leaders in Cuba as well as the United States. A journey to the Museum of the Revolution — along with an excursion to Cienfuegos and Zapata that will allow our student-athletes access to the Bay of Pigs Museum — will provide the contours for our groups’ leadership immersion experience. To provide additional layers to this experience, our student-athletes will be exposed to Cuban leaders Jose Marti, Che Guevara, and Cintio Vitier, who all have emphasized independence, the rights of citizens, and Cuban freedom.
“I believe this trip to Cuba will be an eye-opening adventure socially and culturally,” Smither said. “Not only will we be able to practice our Spanish speaking, but we will be also be able to immerse ourselves in the Cuban culture while bonding over a common interest of athletics. It's a very fortunate opportunity, given the variety of Richmond student-athletes going and then sharing our specialties with those in Cuba.”
The student-athletes will also investigate themes of social justice and sport on their trip to Cuba. A behind-the-scenes baseball tour with expert Reynaldo Cruz, the founder and editor of the Cuban-based magazine Universo Beisbol, which is hosted in MLBlogs, a meeting with both amateur and professional boxers at a local gym, and a service visit to Barrio Habana — a nonprofit community sport program for at-risk youth — will contribute to our exploration of the place of sport in Cuban culture, activism, and national identity.
“This is a marvelous opportunity for us to go to Cuba,” Harris said. “I am excited to be able to experience another culture and use my second language of Spanish, especially considering the political times we are currently in.”
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