Henke Assumes Presidency of Caribbean Group

Dr. Holger Henke, Assistant Provost at York College, CUNY, recently assumed the Presidency of the Caribbean Studies Association (CSA), the largest professional organization of scholars and activists working on issues pertaining to the Caribbean region.

Founded in 1975 by a group of academics at a forum in Puerto Rico, the CSA, according to Dr. Henke, facilitated a post-independence look inward for solutions rather than to the “mother countries” of their colonial era, evident in their persistent ties to England, Spain, France, the Netherlands….Since then, the CSA annual conference has evolved into a truly international event, however, with scholars coming from around the region, North America, Europe, and Latin America, and it meets in various countries in the Caribbean and Latin America.

In recent years, for example, the conference visited places such as Jamaica, Barbados, Salvador da Bahia (Brazil), and San Andres Isla (Colombia). 

Dr. Henke, who was born in Northrhine-Westphalia, Germany, but grew up in Munich, is a political scientist whose research interests cut across different disciplines. He studied at the Geschwister-Scholl-Institute of Political Science at the Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich, where he obtained a Master of Arts in Political Science, and at the University of the West Indies (Mona) where he graduated with a Ph.D. in Government.

The one-year term, which runs from May 2010 to May 2011, will see the new president focus on organizing the next annual conference, as well as overseeing the organizations’ current affairs. However, there are other goals as well. 

“In addition to organizing a successful annual conference, there are two additional goals I want to achieve,” says Henke whose term as president began at the recent conference in Barbados. “One, I want the organization to become equipped with a fully interactive online membership management system. This would allow interested individuals to become a member at any time of the day from anywhere in the world, existing members to update their membership data, and allow CSA on the other end to create and maintain a fully updated and functional membership database.” 

For Henke who has published extensively on the region, the second important goal is to re-engage the Spanish-speaking Caribbean in more meaningful ways. 

“There is a cultural gap being perceived,” he explains. “While we are not excluding anybody, the internal dynamics and resources of CSA often mean that we are widely-perceived as an Anglo-dominant (English-speaking) space. People are not [all] seeing themselves as equally welcomed. So, apart from the challenge of consistently providing translation, efforts have to be made to correct this image.” 

To address this concern, Henke, during term as CSA Vice-President, released an open letter to many colleagues and institutions in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean saying in effect, “We’re open, claim us as yours.” 

He also remarked on the import of having the non-English-speakers attend and participate in panels and presentations focusing on other language-areas in the region. 

“It is a big concern to me, to open it up to everyone,” says Henke, who is planning to attend several conferences in Spanish-Speaking Caribbean countries during his term. “CSA is a shared space in a region with a shared history and shared futures. Too often the echo of the colonial past reverberates even today in how the countries and peoples of the region relate to each other.” 

Putting his money where his mouth is, Henke is making an effort to have a keynote speaker from the Spanish-speaking Caribbean at the next conference, slated for May/June 2011 in Curacao (Netherlands Antilles) and he promises not to tell him to “speak in English.” 

According to Henke, many geopolitical changes are affecting the region and are opening new opportunities and new challenges. The theme of next year’s conference is Pointing Forward – “Building a New House: Towards New Caribbean Futures in an Age of Uncertainty.” 

He explains that there are many opportunities for faculty from York College and across CUNY to participate actively in the planning of this conference, as well as in the actual deliberations during the annual meeting next year. 

“Faculty and graduate students,” says Henke, “are often – understandably so – very, focused on their respective disciplinary conferences. However, they don’t always realize that being a member in a more multi-disciplinary organization such as CSA can provide them with an extraordinary array of networking possibilities that reach far beyond their discipline. 

He adds that the Caribbean Studies Association, in particular, is in his opinion, “an organization which offers an extremely vibrant intellectual space that many of our longstanding members cherish as a most reinvigorating force in their scholarly enterprise.”

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