Hartford, Connecticut, February 10, 2017 – As the first student to receive a research grant from Trinity’s new Center for Caribbean Studies (CCS), Elizabeth “Eli” Valenzuela ’17 spent two weeks of January doing research related to Hinduism on the island of Trinidad. Valenzuela, a Posse scholar from New York City, is a double major in international studies and political science and a double minor in urban studies and Hispanic studies. The CCS grant enabled Valenzuela to combine her fields of study into an independent research project that will culminate in her international studies senior thesis.
Leslie Desmangles, professor of religion and international studies and the inaugural director of the CCS, said that the research grants offered by the center provide opportunities for students and professors to broaden their knowledge and understanding of the Caribbean and its peoples. Eligible students or faculty members may apply for grant awards of up to $3,000. All CCS grant recipients are required to present their research findings to the Trinity community; Valenzuela’s presentation is scheduled for Thursday, April 27, during Common Hour, at the Dangremond Family Commons in Hallden Hall.
Valenzuela’s Hinduism-related research in Trinidad links her academic and extracurricular interests. “My international studies concentrations are African studies and Latin American studies, so I have been pursuing topics in Caribbean studies throughout my time here,” she said. Building on an initial academic fascination she had for this region, Valenzuela drew on her other interests in developing the direction for her research.
As a member of the executive board of Trinity’s Charleston House of Interfaith Cooperation, Valenzuela had organized events and participated in discussions surrounding religion, but had not studied it in a formal setting. “I wanted to study the interfaith cooperation that exists in Trinidad since it aligns with a club that I have been a part of since freshman year,” she said. Valenzuela decided to focus her study on just the minority religion of Hinduism, since the advising committee recommended she focus on one topic given her length of stay in Trinidad.
Valenzuela first became interested in Hinduism after spending a month in Ahmedabad, India, with the School for International Training’s International Honors Program (IHP) last year. While she was studying the challenges cities face through the lens of social justice, Valenzuela lived with a homestay family that practiced Hinduism. She felt that Hinduism was an “unexplored aspect” of her study away program and she was intrigued to learn more.
While in Trinidad over Trinity’s J-term, Valenzuela started out by researching “the historical and contemporary relationship between the Hindu community and the Trinidadian government.” However, once she got deeper into conducting research, she shifted her focus to study “how Hindus are negotiating space within Trinidad.” Valenzuela further explained that she narrowed her research to discover how women, youth, and artists are raising their voices in Trinidad.
After interviewing leaders in Trinidad’s Hindu community, exploring national archives, and conducting research at the University of West Indies’ library, Valenzuela collected information during her time abroad that will inform her final thesis.
Valenzuela said she was impressed by and grateful for the support she received from both the Trinidadians with whom she worked on her research and by Trinity’s Center for Caribbean Studies on her quest to complete a meaningful research project. “During my time at Trinity, I feel blessed to have benefitted from the support of its amazing staff and resources. I would encourage all students to dream big as they pursue their academic interests,” she said.
Students have been traveling to Trinidad through Trinity’s study away program for nearly 20 years. Now, with the creation of the CCS, which focuses on the Caribbean region as a place for academic investigation, students will have increased opportunities to explore this area. The application deadline for the next round of CCS grants is February 24 for projects to begin in summer or fall of 2017. For more information about the Center for Caribbean Studies and research grant opportunities, click here.
Written by Sophia Gourley ’19