Students travel to Cuba for embedded Liberal Arts course

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Nine students traveled to Havana, Cuba, as part of an embedded course on race, gender and religion in the country. WMNST 497A (AF AM 497A) Race, Gender, and Religion in Cuba is offered jointly between African American studies and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies in the College of the Liberal Arts.

The course, which is taught by Maha Marouan, associate professor of African American studies and women's, gender, and sexuality studies, was designed to expose students to the intersection of race, gender and religion in Cuban culture. Students spent 10 days in Cuba conducting fieldwork and engaging — not only through reading materials but in tangible ways —with important questions about Cuban religious politics as they relate to both race and gender. The class met with many researchers and influential figures, participated in cultural events, and experienced the nightlife of Havana.

“One of the main goals of the course was to go beyond the traditional classroom setting and instead experience the culture and engage with its elements in concrete ways,” said Marouan. “We did this through visits to churches, museums and community projects; through daily interactions with Cubans; exposure to music, dance and other elements of popular culture; and conversations with peers and researchers.”

As a result of meeting researchers from Cuban cultural and educational institutions, students were able to trace the way race, gender and religion have shaped Cuban culture.

“I came to Cuba with a curious mind, determined to discover some of the truth buried beneath the onion layers of propaganda, both left and right, and though I spent but 10 short days abroad, I'm deeply grateful that I've been given the opportunity to learn firsthand,” said Nathaniel Sutherland, a senior majoring in English.

Yasmin Jones, a psychology and African American studies sophomore, felt the new perspectives she gained and new approaches to race relations and religion had a significant impact on both her personal development and her studies.

“I greatly appreciate the College of the Liberal Arts for providing the enrichment funding that I received to make my trip possible,” said Jones. “I would not have been able to go without it, and there are no words to express how much I think funding for trips like these benefits students like me who are passionate about their development but may not have the means to take advantage of every opportunity that this university offers.”

To learn more about the course and to read stories from the students, visit

Media Contacts: 
Last Updated June 22, 2016