The Daily Tar Heel

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Tuesday January 31st

Caribbean Student Association provides family for students

Photo courtesy of Caribbean Student Association.
Buy Photos Photo courtesy of Caribbean Student Association.

At UNC, students are inspired to join and create organizations that they feel best represent them. In the case of the Carolina Caribbean Student Association, students not only created, but established a tradition of their own. 

For co-president and senior Noah Legall, who has familial origins in the island of Barbados, the club is an opportunity to bring together a newfound niche for students of Caribbean origin and descent with UNC traditions. 

“Carolina is one big tradition. We do basketball, elect Mr. and Miss Sophomore with BSM, a lot of things are just to keep tradition, and it’s rare to be able to create new ones,” Legall said.

Since its founding last school year by Jared Richards, the Caribbean Student Association now boasts over 100 members — including Caribbean and non-Caribbean students. 

“Our main concern and our biggest hope is to make everybody — I mean every single person because the Caribbean Student Association is all-inclusive — a part of the Caribbean culture, especially those who don’t really know about it,” co-president and junior Khara Vassell said. 

Vassell has connections to Jamaica through both of her parents, who inspired her to give back via her hometown of Miami, Fla. Using her past community service as a template for future club opportunities, she is working towards creating an alternative spring break with the Caribbean Student Association that would take them to a Caribbean island to conduct service projects and forge relationships with local populations. But before funds are available to carry out this ambitious service project goal, Vassell wishes to visit schools in the Chapel Hill area to present Caribbean culture to young students. 

“There’s more to the Caribbean than just Jamaica or the Bahamas," she said. "We want people to know more so that they won’t have these stereotypes ingrained in their brain." 

The educational initiative of the Caribbean Student Association comes from misconceptions and heavily stereotyped ideas about Caribbean culture. 

"The Caribbean is not just a monolith where all the weed smoking folks live. It’s really vibrant and it’s popping,” Legall said.

The pride and exuberance of the students of the Caribbean Student Association has led them to organize a week full of events akin to Caribbean carnival. 

Before the Caribbean Student Association was launched, Caribbean students were involved in the Organization for African Students' Interests and Solidarity and various Latinx groups, yet these did not offer students the same advantages as being part of the Caribbean Student Association. 

“I never felt that I fit completely into OASIS or BSM, so being able to share jokes with people who know what they mean, share food, share ideas — share my culture in a way that I know other people are receptive of — I don’t have to mold into something I’m not, and I can just be who I am,” said co-vice president and senior Ashley Sapp, whose mother is Jamaican. 

Vassell said distance separates her from her relatives, but the Caribbean Student Association creates a home environment. 

“They feel like my family, they feel like I’m home whenever I’m with them. I’m going to sound corny — but it’s just so beautiful how our culture is just so inviting," she said. “It’s an amazing warm, overcoming, overwhelming feeling.”

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