On Saturday, Sept. 15, the basement of Old Kenyon sounded a little different than usual. Instead of a stream of hip-hop and pop music, the speakers blasted the latest soca hits, including artists like Olatunji, Machel Montano and Kes. Soca, derived from Soul of Calypso, originated in Trinidad and Tobago. The genre blends calypso influences with soul and funk for a product that is cheerful and made for dancing. Although the party was alcohol-free, by 11:30 p.m., the line to enter stretched around the building.
Saturday’s party marked a turning point for Students of Caribbean Ancestry (SoCA), a new student organization focused on expanding the representation of Caribbean identities on campus.The party received support from several groups looking for non-alcoholic alternatives to all-campus events; it was co-sponsored by Men of Color (MoC), Zeta Alpha Pi and Theta Delta Phi.
Dom Rowley ’19, co-founder and president of SoCA, said the organization was excited by the turnout. Rowley attributes the party’s success to its novelty.
“We brought something new to campus,” he said. “I don’t think Caribbean music is really played a whole lot.” Rowley also noted that he went to school with the party’s DJ — who SoCA flew in from the University of Southern Florida — back in Trinidad and Tobago.
Rowley said that he had wanted to be a part of a Caribbean student group for a while. In his time at Kenyon, he has been and still is a member of both Black Student Union and MoC, but he found that neither group quite fit his Caribbean identity.
“It was great, but it wasn’t enough because I wasn’t really able to explore my cultural identity that much,” Rowley said. “I couldn’t identify with the American aspect of what being African American was, because I’m not African American.”
Last spring, Rowley, Jules Desroches ’18, Camisha James ’18, Taaj Davis ’19, Shannon Paige ’20 and Brittany Beckley ’20 founded SoCA in tandem with a growing population of students of Caribbean ancestry on campus. Rowley estimated that there were five students with Caribbean backgrounds when he first came to Kenyon; now there are about 15.
In addition to last weekend’s party, SoCA has also hosted its own J’ouvert, a Caribbean Carnival street party. The event covered the New Apartment tennis courts in color as students danced and threw paint and powder on each other. SoCA also organized a campus-wide dinner catered by Ena’s Caribbean Kitchen in Columbus, Ohio. The meal brought faculty, administrators and students together in celebration of Caribbean cuisine.
SoCA’s goals reach beyond Caribbean-inspired programming. The organization wants to assist in bringing more diversity to Kenyon’s campus through recruitment and eventually inspire more courses on Caribbean topics.
Rowley said that SoCA is planning to get involved in the local community as well. This semester, the group will participate in the Center for Global Engagement’s Knox County Meets the World program, which brings Kenyon’s international students into local schools to talk about their backgrounds, as well as the Salvation Army’s hot meals program. “Every moment has just been really memorable,” Rowley said. “Even though we’re a small group, we’re continuously working hard to shape campus life … Things are moving in a positive direction.”