Millsaps’ Inaugural Class in Saint Croix

An inaugural summer course in St. Croix introduced students to central issues in the history of the Americas by tracing the formative years of one of the United States’ best known founding fathers. Led by Dr. Amy Forbes, associate professor of history, the course—titled “Alexander Hamilton: Race, Medicine, Resistance, and Resilience”—traced Hamilton’s experiences growing up in the free African quarter of Christiansted, the loss of his mother to yellow fever, and his own illnesses, informal adoption by a prominent St. Croix medical family, and subsequent study of medicine in this intersection of European, American, and African cultures.

While in St. Croix, the group continued the work they began in class at Millsaps by exploring the relationship between America and its Caribbean neighbor through the perspectives of traditional healing practices and culture of enslaved people, and considering the modern repercussions of past events of black resistance. Each day featured a new activity, but one standout was a morning spent learning traditional Afro-Caribbean drumming and how to make the herbal bath used by midwives for healing after a birth. The students also made it a goal to engage with the local community by working in partnership with faculty at the University of the Virgin Islands, Saint Croix, a public, historically black university, and did service work at Fort Frederiksted.

The group boasted a diverse collection of students, majoring in disciplines including history, biology, government and politics, and business. Six of the students had never traveled outside of the continental U.S., four had never been out of the southeast, and two had never flown in an airplane.

Forbes was thrilled with the outcome of the college’s first summer course in St. Croix, calling it a great success.

“Each student got out of his or her comfort zone in some way, whether through strenuous hiking up a mountain to explore a maroon community, nighttime kayaking to investigate bioluminescent creatures, or witnessing the political and economic realities of an American territory where centuries of inequality blight the natural beauty,” she shared. “Students experienced difference and diversity firsthand, interacting with people whose identities and perspectives were very unlike their own. Even though the American south and St. Croix share a past of plantation slavery, imperialism and geography led the two regions to diverse histories, challenging our students to situate superficially familiar stories in historical and cultural context.”

The course was made possible by the History Experiential Learning Gift, which funded the entire course and included scholarships for each student.

“I have asked President Pearigen to convey my deepest appreciation and gratitude to the gift donors,” said Forbes. “We are incredibly fortunate to be able to integrate these experiences into students’ regular education. By removing barriers of financial need, the donors are giving students opportunities to interact with people from other cultures and develop broader vision. Their generosity is changing lives.”

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