IN HER ELEMENT: Former UWI colleagues hail Cooper, pictured below with Lisa Hanna, for her groundbreaking work on campus spanning three decades.
TIME flies when you’re having fun – and doing great work. Just ask Professor Carolyn Cooper, who still can’t believe that it’s been 36 years since she began her teaching sojourn on the Mona Campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI). “It feels like three-and-a-half years not three-and-a-half decades,” she confessed, laughing, as she addressed the large gathering at a retirement celebration held in her honour on campus recently.
By Cooper’s own admission, aside from the outstanding graduates she helped to produce, there are two feats she’s most proud of accomplishing over the course of those thirty-odd years. “I’m most proud of the role I played in how UWI handles housing on campus. I was one of the most militant and aggressive persons who ensured that housing was up to standard,” she recalled. “And also the role I played in the decriminalizing of the vendors on this campus. I was one of the strongest voices on their behalf. I always felt that if Kentucky Fried Chicken can be here, then the vendors can be here. Academic work must be done in the context of social justice.”
But there are those esteemed colleagues who are quick to draw your attention to Cooper’s yeoman efforts in UWI academia that led to the establishment of the Reggae Studies Unit, for instance, and the championing of dancehall music – not to mention the Jamaican patois – as an area fit for academic study.
“The university will certainly be losing one of our greatest academic thinkers. Carolyn Cooper was one of the pillars of our academic community. It will be difficult to fill her shoes,” asserted Prof. Ishenkumba Kahwa, the deputy principal. “During her 36 years at UWI, she established a reputation as one of this institution’s most influential lecturers and the quintessential queen of reggae studies. For many she has been a force in reggae and Jamaican popular music, normalizing the acceptance of dancehall culture in the wider society.”
For Prof. Waibinte Wariboko, Dean of Humanities and Education, the impact her work had on the lives of hundreds of students was simply “transformative”.
Dr. Sonjah Stanley Niaah, Director of the Institute of Caribbean Studies, describes her contributions as “unparalleled” and “formidable.” Dr. Norval Edwards, a huge fan of her “style,” puts her in the company of Prof. Rex Nettleford. “The style of her practice as a public intellectual is matched only by that of Nettleford and Carl Stone,” he said. “As a senior scholar, she was genuinely helpful to her junior colleagues.”
And her books, like Sound Clash and Noises in the Blood, are consistently fine examples of first-rate scholarship. “As a department, we are proud of Carolyn’s contribution to the UWI community, the country and the wider region. Her publications have certainly helped to globalize our brand,” Edwards pointed out. “She has managed to wed research and activism with the bold audacity of her vision.”
So how does Prof. Cooper, a notorious workaholic who still possesses the vibrant energy of a schoolgirl, plan to spend her retirement? “I’m drawing away from UWI but not the academic life,” she revealed. “Recently somebody asked me, ‘So what you going to do now?’, and I said, ‘I plan to kock up mi foot in mi bed.’ I really feel I deserve the break.”