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Caribbean Day keeps West Indian culture on campus

Growing up nearby in Franklin Township, I’ve been around Rutgers all my life. Of course I attended a football game here or there, and like any kid living close enough, have a few Rutgers t-shirts that mysteriously appeared in my closet by way of giveaways and community outreach from the University. My understanding of Rutgers was vague in many ways, but there was an event that I would continually hear about: Caribbean Day. 

Unbeknownst to many current (and former) students, Caribbean Day is one of the longest running events at Rutgers, and this past Saturday, the West Indian Student Organization (WISO) held its 41st annual celebration of West Indian culture on campus. In holding with more recent tradition, the event was held in Denier Park on the College Avenue campus, with vendors selling West Indian cuisine, flags, clothing, shea butter and other hair products.

Caribbean Day is arguably the single largest event that draws out a community of students who oftentimes exist on the margins of the student body as a whole. Similar to other Black cultural organizations like TWESE (which is geared toward African students) and Rutgers United Black Council (an umbrella organization), WISO did its best to turn out a demographic that can unfortunately seem more active in group chats than in person. Regardless of a perceived lack of institutional support and cloudy skies that seemed to tamp down turnout in the first few hours of the event, by mid-afternoon the sun peeked out and students trickled in. 

With a stage set up near the head of the park, the sound system was blaring Soca classics to a crowd that seemed to know every word. As more and more people filed in, the general mood of the event rose as well. People got off the wall to dance, the energy on stage increased and attendees were reminded why they felt compelled to come out and celebrate. 

Student life at a predominantly white institution can often feel alienating, especially with the dismal amount of diversity currently in our faculty and administration. To be able to truly feel at home is an experience that every student deserves, and one that was clearly on display over the weekend. To see Guyanese, Dominican, Bajan and Jamaican flags fly, among many others, is a showcase of the variety and veracity of national pride here on campus. 

“We reach(ed) a lot of roadblocks when it comes to administration, when it comes to RUPD (Rutgers University Police Department), everything in general with pulling the event together,” said Fajer Hussein, co-president of WISO and a School of Arts and Sciences senior. Thankfully, the struggle that it can be to throw an event of this size wasn’t evident on Saturday, with proceedings running smoothly from top to bottom. 

There were performances from musical guests as well as fashion shows, with Rutgers students modeling in traditional Carnival costumes. Adherence to the standard — a wildly colorful array of plumes, headdresses and rhinestones — was refreshing, and brought a small slice of island life to New Brunswick. Annalyse Varlow, one of the models and a Mason Gross School of the Arts junior, enjoyed her time on stage, appreciating the crowd and music. 

Emphasizing unity, Varlow made a clear distinction about why she enjoys Caribbean Day in comparison to other events on campus. 

“I like seeing the minority community come out and celebrate their culture together as a whole, rather than in individual clubs and organizations,” she said. 

Overall, the day turned out to be another installment in a long history of successful functions by WISO. It was a reminder of something that doesn’t always feel obvious, that the Black community at Rutgers is still passionate, still optimistic, still here. Like kindling, all you need is a small spark to set things off. 

With Rutgers promising more diversity in faculty, newer clubs like Rutgers Black Aesthetic steadily finding their footing and a continued prioritization of big events that can draw out students, the hope is that the fire continues to burn, blazing brighter as the years go on.

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