Saint Leo University likes to consider itself a melting pot just like the entire United States of America. One group that represents part of the larger variety of students at the university is the Caribbean population.
Not only does Saint Leo have a significant number of students who hail from this region, but it also has a separate club known as the Caribbean Students' Association (CSA).
CSA's Impact on Saint Leo Students and the Community
Gryer Cox, an accounting major who recently graduated with a bachelor's degree, served as the president of the chapter during the 2017-18 school year.
"Being in a foreign country can be quite intimidating and difficult at times," says Cox, a native of The Bahamas. "Having people around who you can always call on for help or just to make you feel at home is so important."
Formerly known as the Caribbean United Club, the group came together on campus around 2005 and later would change its name to the Caribbean Students' Association.
This past school year, the group had 65 members and up to 50 who regularly attended meetings. They were from a number of different Caribbean countries, including those where English, Spanish and French are spoken. This made it one of the largest student clubs on campus. Throughout the year, the group does community service, including feeding the homeless and visiting shelters and nursing homes. Members are also involved in educational and social events on campus.
A native of Jamaica, Rayonia Slater says she came to the U.S. to have more resources and opportunities at her disposal.
"CSA has taught me that everyone should seek to understand not only their heritage and culture, but also the culture of others," says the sophomore biology major who has served as the chapter's special events coordinator. "It has broadened my outlook on life and has made me more culturally aware and educated."
Converging for Caribbean Culture
From April 12-15, 40 Saint Leo students attended the 44th annual Leadership Conference of the Florida Caribbean Students' Association in Daytona Beach, Fla. These conferences offer social and professional networking opportunities, graduate school fairs and workshops with faculty members on leadership, campus diversity and how to handle culture shock. Caribbean college students from all over Florida and a few other states were on hand this year.
Slater says that the conference was an eye-opener.
"It was just like being home," she says. "The people, the vibe and the atmosphere were just so engaging and overall made for a great experience."
Sherrard Stevens, a graduating senior who majored in marketing with a minor in communications, attended the conference.
"I learned about the relationships that each Caribbean island has and the way we can impact our schools through cultural diversity," he explains. "I also met students from other islands who have the same major as mine. I will say that going to these conferences gives me a sense of joy and, most importantly, a sense of family because we are all family in the Caribbean."
From the Advisor's Perspective
Carol Hope Grant, the assistant director of multicultural and international services at Saint Leo, serves as the advisor for CSA. At the age of 27, she moved to the U.S. from Barbados.
"I came to this country as an international student, so I can identify a lot with what our students go through," she confides.
According to Grant, the true mission of the organization is multifaceted.
"Our goal is to bring students of Caribbean descent together and educate our campus and others about the cultural, social and political affairs of the Caribbean region."
She believes diversity is critical on any college campus.
"If you stay in your own little part of the world, you really miss out on the nuances and different aspects of other people and cultures. I remember going to a conference when I was younger, and there was an argument over a word that one Caribbean person from New York said to someone from another Caribbean country. It demonstrated how people with a similar heritage but living in different parts of the world can have two totally different views on the same thing."
LEARN MORE: Check out the Facebook page for the Saint Leo Caribbean Students' Association.