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Faces of New Paltz

La Tasha A. Brown, Ph.D.

Past Faces of New Paltz
Andrew Wyrich
Elizabeth Sydney

Black Studies - Lecturer since Fall 2011
Hometown: Bronx, NY
Education: B.A., History, St. Lawrence University
M.A., African New World Studies, Florida International University
Ph.D., Comparative Cultural Studies, University of Warwick (England)

You’ve traveled and studied all over the United States, United Kingdom and the Caribbean. Given your experience, why do you encourage your students to study abroad?
We’re a global society. Whether you’re going to be a doctor, or open your own business, or go to corporate America, or be a teacher, you have to interact with folks from all over the world. Studying abroad makes you think about yourself in different ways, and being able to critically analyze and be more flexible in your thinking and world view is important.

When I stepped off the campus environment of Warwick University, I was Black British. I was first Nigerian, then I was Ghanaian, then I was Caribbean. But I was never African-American. So as a faculty member here, I tell the students that the way in which you construct your identity is completely different than when you construct it outside of the confines of the U.S. At any given moment, my identity is shifting depending on who’s defining me and how I want to present myself. That was a really great learning exercise.

Tell me about the Jamaica study abroad program you’re coordinating.
It’s a three week, faculty-led service-learning program to Jamaica. It’s the first for SUNY New Paltz. For three weeks prior to departing for Jamaica, students will learn the history, the culture, and the nuances of Jamaican society, starting off with colonialism and going up to 1962 when they got their independence. Then, we move from 1962 to contemporary Jamaica. During that transitional period in the historical and cultural accounts of Jamaica and its people, the program will be coupled with a service learning experience at the Alpha Boys School, an orphanage/boarding school started by the Catholic Church that houses 7- to 17-year-old boys. A lot of the foundational figures of reggae music prior to Bob Marley came from that school. The whole idea of having nothing and then creating a genre of music that is appreciated globally says quite a bit about the tenacity of Jamaicans, and the fact that there are more Jamaicans living outside of Jamaica than on the island says a lot about migration and what it means to be part of a diaspora.

Which courses do you enjoy teaching the most?
“The Black Woman” – which I’m teaching for the second time this semester – and “Rap and Spoken Word.” I think some of the students are really taken aback initially, because when they get to class they think we’re going to sit there and talk about Nicki Minaj and Jay-Z and just talk about the lyrical content. But you have to go much deeper than the lyrical content, into why this genre of music came about, into what was happening socially, politically, economically, that young people in the south Bronx constructed this music in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

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