Friday, May 4, 2018

UVI Celebrates 56th Charter by Reflecting on Race Relations in VI History

The University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) 56th Anniversary Charter Day celebration in March 2018, called for collective reflection as keynote speaker, Dr. Marilyn Krigger emphasized the significance of Race Relations in the Virgin Islands history. 

The joint celebratory event between the Albert A. Sheen and St. Thomas campuses saw both the Great Hall and the Administration Conference Center (ACC) packed to capacity. Many came eager to hear from Dr. Krigger whose book, “Race Relations in the U.S Virgin Islands” had just recently been published. 

Excerpts from Dr. Krigger’s book, which was also available for purchase, were highlighted and read by Raven Phillips, Student Government Association Secretary on the St. Thomas Campus. 

Coming on the heels of Black History Month, Dr. Marilyn Krigger emphasized the critical role that UVI has played in the advancement of education in the U.S. Virgin Islands. “In 1960, the Virgin Islands was at the beginning of a transformation that made it quite different from the Virgin Islands I knew growing up,” she said. 

Dr. Krigger praised former Governor Ralph Paiewonsky for being “proactive” once he took leadership of the Virgin Islands in 1961. She emphasized how the then governor used his political connections to benefit the Virgin Islands at large, highlighting UVI as one of his earliest accomplishments. 

Pointing specifically to the economic growth the Virgin Islands experienced during that period, Dr. Krigger highlighted the Hess Oil Virgin Islands Corporation and Harvey Aluminum Corporation on St. Croix. “This building, once called the Harvey Building was renovated through contributions made by the Harvey Aluminum Company,” she said speaking of the ACC building. 

“The Virgin Islands at the beginning of the 1960’s was at the initial stage of an economic revolution which would change these islands and make us the number one tourist port and one of the richest places in the Caribbean,” Dr. Krigger said. This she indicated, resulted in a hike in nearby Caribbean immigrants seeking employment as well as whites of the U.S mainland seeking business opportunities. “By the mid-1960’s the Virgin Islands had become quite a different place than what it had been before, that invoked feelings in Virgin Islanders that resulted in incidents such as the ‘takeover’ at the UVI library,” Dr. Krigger said. 
“Many of the students felt that not enough black faculty were being hired,” she said. Speaking of black underrepresentation on the island at large, she said that, “a few students felt that whites were taking control of many of the industries” and that there was an obvious practice of racial discrimination. “Not hiring blacks or if they did, at a lower salary than their white counterparts,” Dr. Krigger said. 

This period was marked by a slew of town hall meetings both locally and nationally, according to Dr. Krigger. Coinciding with what was taking place in the Virgin Islands was “the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 and a great deal of turmoil,” she said. Events such as the “take-over of the UVI library and the Fountain Valley Massacre on St. Croix all put together made for an uneasy atmosphere in the 1960’s,” she stated, “Many people who had not thought much about race relations before realized at that time, how much they were affected by it,” she added. 

Noting other social and economic challenges, Dr. Krigger highlighted the effects of the recession in the United States, the closure of the HESS Oil Refinery and competition in tourism from other Caribbean islands. “So, then St. Thomas is no longer the number one tourist attraction…and what Hurricanes Irma and Maria did multiply the situation,” she said. 

Dr. Krigger challenged the audience to think on possible ways to tackle the economic woes including housing and real estate that have been intensified by the hurricanes. “Black people are being priced out of the Virgin Islands and there is an overall gentrification taking place where it has gotten to the point that black people cannot afford to buy land,” she said. 

Referencing a proposal made to the government for a housing community project in Mandahl, Dr. Krigger indicated that investments such as these would not benefit the average Virgin Islander, who cannot afford to meet the high costs involved. “When a developer comes with those types of proposal, I think we should have a law or regulation that says, for every luxury style home you build, you must also build a modestly priced home,” she suggested. Dr. Krigger’s suggestion was received with a lusty round of applause and cheers. 

Both Dr. Kula Francis and Dr. Frank Mills, keynote respondents, lauded Dr. Krigger for highlighting UVI’s history in a very candid and honest manner. 

Commenting on Dr. Krigger’s book, Dr. Francis, an alumna and member of faculty, highlighted education and economic empowerment. “Specifically, one of the most salient matters from Dr. Krigger’s book is that race remains a major indicator of status and position in these Islands,” she said. 

“Although the days of white only schools such as the early days of Antilles School no longer exist, the fact remains, a large number of Virgin Islanders still cannot afford to attend these types of schools, even if they wanted to. Access still remains concerning,” Kula said. 

Dr. Mills, an alumnus and current administrator, recounted some of his experiences at UVI that Dr. Krigger had pointed to. He said, “UVI has in fact been resilient in overcoming the multiplicity of challenges it faced in its formative years and as a result is celebrating its 56th anniversary.”  

UVI’s Charter Day Concert is known to feature both students and faculty, and this year was no exception. The national anthem was raised by Ki-ana Tonge, Student Government Association president on the Albert A. Sheen Campus. Tonge was followed by Angelique Flemming, Miss University of the Virgin Islands 2017-2018, who gave brief opening remarks. She was followed by David Jeffers, a student of humanities, who made the audience erupt in laughter when he recited a creative word selection entitled, “Tiger vs Anansi at UVI”, a short story he wrote himself. 

Over the last few years, Dion Parson and friends have provided soothing yet stimulating entertainment, with each year seemingly surpassing the previous one. This year, the band featured Lorna Freeman, Jeanette Rhymer, Gylchris Sprauve and Sherwin Williams. Making a few special appearances throughout the program, the band performed “Valiant Virgin Isles”, written by Gylchris Sprauve and “My Favorite Things”, written by Rogers and Hammerstein. 

Dr. Marilyn Brathwaite-Hall, wife of President Hall, rendered the vote of thanks while gifting Dr. Krigger a bouquet of flowers. 

The curtains were drawn with the lusty singing by the audience of “Alma Mater”, which was followed by a calypso rendition of “Happy Birthday,” a tribute to UVI, performed by Dion Parson and friends. 

The event was jointly hosted by Provost Camille McKayle, vice president of academic affairs, on the St. Thomas Campus and Dr. Chenzira Kahina-Davis, director, Virgin Islands Cultural Center, on the Sheen Campus.