Haiti teach-in looks at long-term recovery

“Three weeks after the earthquake, it is no longer front [page] news,” African history professor Rachel Jean Baptiste said.

By Boryana Levterova

Eight panelists discussed Haiti’s history and culture of resistance, its socioeconomic condition, and the wider implications of last month’s earthquake at a “Teach-In on Haiti” held at the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs by UChicago for Haiti Tuesday.

“Three weeks after the earthquake, it is no longer front news,” African history professor Rachel Jean Baptiste said. “It is now time to think about the future of long-term recovery.”

Assistant professor Greg Beckett (Ph.D.’09) did anthropological research in Haiti. “The post-earthquake response will redefine how global humanitarian response takes place worldwide,” he said. With the flood season starting in a month, there is a second wave of disaster emerging, he said.

The disaster in Haiti had two components, Beckett said: natural hazard and extreme vulnerability. The deep poverty, weak infrastructure, and inequality in the country all contributed to the gravity of the disaster. Haiti is the country with the highest number of NGOs per capita in the world, according to Beckett.

Haiti spent the 19th century fearing that France, the U.S. or England might invade it, Beckett said; the U.S. and the Vatican did not recognize its independence until the 1860s. W. L. Balan-Gaubert, a Haitian activist and scholar, said the Western powers conspired to ruin the country through denigration and demonization. Most other panelists also talked about the stereotypes Americans have of Haiti as a savage place where people practice a barbaric Voodoo religion and how this changed the perception of the disaster.

“We have to work to undermine pernicious stereotypes,” Melvin Butler from the Department of Music said. He said that, as a Haiti scholar, he would want to explain its diverse religious landscape and show how the Haitians used music as a means of resisting throughout their history.

UChicago for Haiti, which works to provide long-term relief for Haiti, has so far managed to fundraise $12,000 and is aiming for $20,000.

The event was organized by the Center for the Study of Race Politics and Culture, the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, the Center for Latin American Studies and co-sponsored by the Reproduction of Race & Racial Ideologies Workshop and UChicago for Haiti, which has raised $12,000 for relief efforts.