CLACS: The year ahead with Patsy Lewis

Since July 1, 2020, Visiting Professor of International and Public Affairs Patsy Lewis has served as director of the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS). We recently caught up with Lewis, an expert on small-state development in the Caribbean region, and asked her about her plans for CLACS in the coming months.

What are your goals for CLACS this year?

We continue to work hard to focus on some of the key issues of the day, which of course include Covid. And I mean not only the disease but also how it affects different constituencies, particularly black and Hispanic communities in the Caribbean and Latin America. I'm interested in looking at the economic dislocation the countries in that region have experienced, and what it means going forward. Whole economies are likely to be transformed. And of course, climate change in this region is a huge issue. This region is on the front lines, whether because of deep-sea oil extraction or sea level rise or hurricanes.

Another thing I plan to do is continue to connect meaningfully with Providence and surrounding communities. This year, we have done podcasts with Pablo Rodriguez and have engaged with the slate of progressive candidates in Rhode Island, including one of our graduate students, Jonathan Acosta. 

But engagement has to grow from an intimate knowledge of the communities you serve. We are fortunate to have received a grant from the Provost’s Addressing Systemic Racism initiative. The grant looks at groups that were at the forefront of social protests across Rhode Island since March. How did they mobilize? How were Latinx and Caribbean diaspora communities involved in these moments? What were their particular concerns?

We’re also trying to see how we can engage more with schools. How can we support them with teaching tools about the Caribbean and Latin America that they actually need? We try to make spaces for schools in some of our events. For instance, when we brought a steel band from Canada to Watson a few years ago, we took the band to Central Falls and students from a number of schools came to hear them. It was a huge hit.

It sounds like a lot of your focus is on community building. Can you tell us more about that effort?

I really want to build a stronger community of CLACS affiliates and students. We have incredible faculty from across campus. Sometimes I think we spend a lot of time listening to people from outside, but I would like us to have conversations with one another. 

We’re working to develop a space for faculty and graduate students to share their work—and not just their academic work, their other selves as well. There are a lot of creative people in our community!

With Covid, it’s important that we work to build community among our undergraduates, too. Erica Durante, our director of undergraduate studies, is the glue that holds them together. Last semester Erica innovated by taking her class outside. I think that’s something we can embrace after Covid—the idea that education doesn’t have to happen inside four walls. We’re thinking differently about how to create community and bring joy.

Last fall, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation kicked off a series of initiatives and discussions at Brown focused on migration to and from countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Can you say more about that?

We are particularly excited about this grant. It’s a collaboration with the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice and the Africana Studies Department’s Rites and Reason Theatre titled “Rethinking the Dynamic Interplay of Migration, Race, and Ethnicity in the Caribbean and Latin America.” We’re looking at historic and contemporary migratory flows and their intersections with race and ethnicity. The seminar, which comes on stream in the 2021-22 academic year, will feature conferences, workshops, performances, exhibitions, and a play to reflect different aspects of the migratory experience.

Who will CLACS be collaborating with on campus?

CLACS is excited to be partnering with centers and programs at Watson, at Brown, and beyond. This spring, we are joining with Watson’s Center for Middle East Studies, to host a discussion titled “Feminist Mobilizations at the Time of Covid-19: Experiences from the Middle East and Latin America and the Caribbean” that explores how the pandemic has affected women and the implications for feminist activism. We are pleased to welcome the Asfari Institute for Civil Society and Citizenship at the American University of Beirut; and the Latin American and Caribbean Center of the University of the West Indies as co-sponsors. 

We are also collaborating with Watson’s Graduate Development Program on a symposium on the drafting of a new constitution for Chile, where we’ll explore such topics as tensions around competing priorities and women’s concerns, in particular around femicide.

And we are collaborating with the Center for Middle East Studies, the Rhodes Center for International Economics and Finance, and the Department of Africana Studies on a comparative exploration of global unrest in Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa.

These are just a few of the events we are hosting in the spring. Much of our programming is driven by the interests of CLACS-affiliated faculty across the disciplines, which adds tremendous variety to our programs.