Wabash College Professors Ethan Hollander and Dan Rogers will take 14 students to Cuba over Thanksgiving break. The students have spent the semester studying the the political issues between the United States and Cuba, and will hear from officials and fellow college students on both sides. After four days and three nights in Havana, the Wabash class will spend another three days in Miami to round out the experience.
Professor Ethan Hollander — Cuba isn’t easy to get to. Although the waterway that separates Cuba from the US is only 90 miles across, the bureaucratic, historical, and political chasm between the two countries is wider and more treacherous. So why bother?
More than almost any other country we could learn about, Cuba encourages reflection upon complex and controversial issues. But Cuba is also a country where unbiased reflections are nearly impossible to find. Cuban and American observers both tell the story of the island nation, but the stories differ so widely that it’s hard to tell who (if anyone) is getting it right. The story of the US-Cuban relationship is so wrought with uncertainty, misinformation, and spin that historians and analysts disagree with almost the same ferocity as the governments themselves.
But Wabash is a place where we teach the next generation of leaders to think critically. And given the uncertainty and spin, the Cuban-American experience is one about which critical thinking is most necessary. Given that no analysis or history of the relationship is unambiguously free of bias, the Wabash student – the critical thinker – needs to see the country with fresh eyes. He has to experience it first-hand. Anybody can learn about Cuba from the newspaper or a textbook. A Wabash student has the tools necessary to learn from direct experience. Our trip to Cuba will allow our students to do just that. And we hope that his conclusions will be more thoughtful, more responsible, and more humane as a result.
In Cuba and in Miami, we will see the Cuban-American experience from both sides. We’ll meet politicians, journalists, scholars, and students from Miami and from Havana. In Cuba, we’ll meet with the Chairman of a Committee for the Defense of the Revolution, a ‘Neighborhood Watch’ organization responsible for representing – or spying upon – everyday Cuban citizens. In Miami, we’ll meet the director of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American studies, a prominent leader in the Cuban-American community and outspoken critic of Castro’s regime. In Cuba, we’ll meet with a group of student leaders from the University of Havana. In the United States, our student leaders will meet with Tim Padgett ’84 – a prominent journalist and Wabash alum who has made a career of thinking critically about the complex dynamics we’ll be witnessing first hand.
Not just any College could take its students to Cuba. The complexity of diplomatic relations with the country would make it impossible were it not for the support of the Wabash community, our colleagues, the administration, and – most of all – the students of this generation and of generations past. This is the community that makes it possible for Wabash students to experience what other students don’t even think about. And it’s the community that makes it possible for us to embark upon the unprecedented journey that we’re about to begin.