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UM’s First Distinguished Presidential Fellow Employs Her Story-Telling Power


Cuban journalist Yoani Sánchez, the newly named UM Distinguished Presidential Fellow, spoke about challenges faced by reporters and the state of an independent media in Cuba.
By Robert C. Jones Jr.
UM News
yoani

Yoani Sánchez, UM’s first Distinguished Presidential Fellow, inaugurated the UM Cuba Forums lecture series.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (October 25, 2016)—The 11-year-boy and his mother had come far—all the way from Cuba to the jungle of Panama’s Darién Gap. Now, the only thing they needed to do was cross the treacherous swath of land where bandits, vipers, and jaguars often lurk. Surely no easy task.

Traveling with the two, who were part of a small group of migrants trying to reach the United States, was an independent Cuban reporter.

“During a pause in the trip, the boy asked me what I did for a living,” Yoani Sánchez, the blogger who has achieved international fame for her critical portrayal of life in Cuba under the Castro regime, told a University of Miami audience of more than 350 people Monday evening.

“I told him I was a journalist, and his face lit up,” she said. “ ‘Then, you’re going to help us get out of here,’ the boy said. But the fact was, I couldn’t do much to defend him from the poisonous snakes and the mosquitoes that made their route more difficult. I couldn’t even protect him from the rain that fell all the time. The only thing I could do was tell their story.”

And as she has done in countless other articles chronicling the plight of Cubans, Sánchez did just that.

“Being a reporter doesn’t mean you’re a super hero,” Sánchez said from the University’s Newman Alumni Center, where, as a newly named UM Distinguished Presidential Fellow, she delivered the lecture, The Power to Tell a Story: Daily Life in Cuba through the Lens of an Independent Journalist. “Being a journalist simply means being a chronicler of reality, using words and images to tell what’s going on.”

The lecture served as the launch of UM’s Cuba Forums, a future series of lectures that will explore the country and its people.

Sánchez, who started the blog Generation Y, which she published by emailing entries to friends outside Cuba who then posted them online, said journalists working in countries where their freedom and lives are at risk because of what they write often produce stories of despair and anguish that do not lead to solutions. “As primary care physicians, we reporters are there in the best of times in the lives of people and also in their worst moments,” she explained. “We cannot cure the issues they face, but we can make an X-ray of what happens to them and a diagnosis of the evil they suffer.”

During a three-decade stretch, from the 1960s to the 1980s, reporters in Cuba found it impossible to do their work outside the narrow framework of the government. But it wasn’t solely the fear of reprisals that made it difficult for them to report accurately and responsibly, but the reality that local newspapers and other media had “become as guarded as military barracks,” said Sánchez.

By the mid-1990s, the Cuban independent journalism movement took root, aided by technology that allowed reporters to publish on foreign websites. Those initial independent reporters established the pillars of nongovernmental media but paid a price, many of them being imprisoned, Sánchez explained.

Today, the independent media in Cuba is exploding. In the last three years, Sánchez said, several digital sites have emerged, reporting on news, sports, and other topics without the fear of government control. “All of them share the desire to reflect the plurality of a diverse country that’s living through an important moment in its history,” said Sanchez, who founded Cuba’s first independent daily digital news outlet, 14ymedio.

“The new alternative reporters also have the commitment to raise the quality of media in Cuba and improve the standards of the profession. But it’s not just a matter of denouncing. It’s also a matter of telling,” she said, explaining that journalists need to report on topics such as the emerging Cuban economic sector making progress despite restrictions, high taxes, and the absence of a wholesale market.

Sánchez, part of the 100 endowed talents initiative introduced by UM President Julio Frenk at his inauguration last January, credited technology in the form of USB flash drives and smartphones for helping to disseminate news out of Cuba. The emergence of social media has also helped, as incidents such as police and human rights abuses and the damage caused by Hurricane Matthew in Cuba have been posted on Facebook, YouTube, and other online social networking sites.

The event began with a welcome by Sarah Betancourt, president of UM’s Federacion de Estudiantes Cubans, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

After her lecture, which was given in Spanish, Sánchez answered questions during a Q&A moderated by Frenk. When asked her opinion of the Obama administration normalizing diplomatic relations with Cuba, she said the policy, despite its best intentions, has not improved conditions for many Cubans, especially those who find it difficult to buy food on a daily basis.

One woman, who said her father was a political prisoner in Cuba and died in one of Fidel Castro’s jails, asked Sánchez what a post-Castro Cuba will be like, to which she replied that while the Castro regime will end, “what comes later is the real challenge.”

“I believe Cuba has lots of potential. There is great human capital, which has a lot more to do with the DNA of a nation,” said Sánchez, going on to explain that the exile community and younger Cuban generation could play major roles in the island nation’s reconstruction.

As part of her activities as the first UM Distinguished Presidential Fellow, Sánchez lectured at the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Communication, and she was also the host of a Jeffersonian-style dinner with 13 students leaders, many of them Cuban-Americans.

During the events, she explained how technology is opening up new avenues of expression for Cubans living under the Castro regime, and how Cuba’s totalitarian government cannot control the accessibility and immediacy to technology.

At the School of Communication, she spoke to about 150 students in Associate Professor Sam Terilli’s Freedom of Expression Class. “When the Berlin Wall fell, the Cuban government did not give us any news,” she said. “It took five years for Cuban citizens to know that the Berlin Wall had fallen. Nowadays, when a dissident group is assaulted or imprisoned, it takes about 24 hours for that video to hit the Internet.”

Cell phones are widely available on the island. “You cannot stop technology,” she said.

Sánchez also said that while she approves of renewed relations between the island and the U.S., she resents the fact that many people, after seeing a string of celebrities such as Madonna and Mick Jagger visit the island, now believe Cuba has changed. “Cuba has not changed,” she told the class. “The concerts will help, but the only thing that could really bring about change is for Cuban citizens to push for change, and unfortunately that is not happening.”

University Communications’ Barbara Gutierrez contributed to this report.

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Hundreds Turn Out to Advance Roadmap

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Hundreds Turn Out to Advance Roadmap


School of Law Professor Michael Froomkin discusses engineering and technology at one town hall.

School of Law Professor Michael Froomkin discusses engineering and technology at one town hall.

The final of seven Roadmap Town Hall meetings concluded on Friday with hundreds of faculty, staff, and students attending one or more of the seven forums aimed at advancing the Roadmap to Our New Century and fulfilling the University of Miami’s aspirations of becoming the hemispheric, excellent, relevant, and exemplary university by its 2025 centennial.

“One hundred years is emblematic for a university because if you’ve made it to 100, it means you have the potential to be there for the long haul,” UM President Julio Frenk said.

Explaining why the University has embarked on this journey, the president noted that higher education is facing “disruptive challenges” as well as “unprecedented opportunities.” The Roadmap process has been an inclusive exercise designed by our community to enable the University to shape its future—one that will thrive in this environment.

“If we do that,” Frenk said, “we’ll not only celebrate our 100th anniversary, but we will be well poised to celebrate our 200th and 300th.”

The Roadmap Town Halls, which began on September 15 at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, moved to the Miller School and Coral Gables campuses over the next eight days. The purpose of the Town Halls was to discuss and refine the proposals that grew out of Frenk’s intensive University-wide Listening Exercise that began last fall and that led to a design process informed by a diverse group of members from the University community.

In the coming weeks, the Office of the President will discuss the Roadmap Initiatives with the Faculty Senate and Student Government before presenting them to the Board of Trustees.

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Join Us for a Roadmap Town Hall This Month


At the beginning of the summer President Frenk invited the University of Miami community to discuss, debate, and offer refinements on eight draft initiatives that will advance the Roadmap to Our New Century. The robust engagement on these initiatives over the last three months reflects a shared commitment to the future of the institution we treasure.

This month, as we prepare to move from consultation to implementation, the University community is invited to seven Town Hall meetings for a conversation with President Frenk and campus leaders about the proposals. This is an opportunity for all members of the UM community to share their thoughts as we transition to action. The Roadmap process began with an intensive University-wide Listening Exercise that involved voices from every corner of our institution. The results helped shape the charge of eight working groups which drafted the Roadmap initiative proposals released in June. This summer we have received further feedback and ideas. These September Town Hall meetings will help finalize the proposals as we shift toward carrying out these bold ideas.

Three Roadmap Town Halls on the Miller School and Rosenstiel campuses will focus on all eight initiatives. Four meetings on the Coral Gables campus will be split thematically, with two focusing on those initiatives that will most impact education and students and two concentrating on the initiatives that will enhance how we conduct research and pursue innovation.

Register for one or more of the Town Halls listed below through Eventbrite.

 

Town Hall Focus Date and Time Location
All Roadmap Initiatives Thursday, September 15
9 to 11 a.m.
RSMAS Auditorium
Rosenstiel School Campus
All Roadmap Initiatives Friday, September 16
7 to 9 a.m.
Lois Pope LIFE Center Auditorium, Medical Campus
Education/Students Tuesday, September 20
1 to 3 p.m.
Shalala Student Center Ballroom, Coral Gables Campus
Research/Innovation Wednesday, September 21
9  to 11 a.m.
Shalala Student Center Ballroom, Coral Gables Campus
Education/Students Wednesday, September 21
11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Shalala Student Center Ballroom, Coral Gables Campus
All Roadmap Initiatives Thursday, September 22
4:45 to 6:45 p.m.
Lois Pope LIFE Center Auditorium, Medical Campus
Research/Innovation Friday, September 23
1 to 3 p.m.
Shalala Student Center Ballroom, Coral Gables Campus

 

Feedback on any of the Roadmap Initiatives can be submitted at any time through the website, by using #UMRoadmap on social media, or via email.

The Office of the President looks forward to seeing you in September. Thank you for your continued participation!

 

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Join the Conversation about the Roadmap to Our New Century: Access with Excellence

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Join the Conversation about the Roadmap to Our New Century: Access with Excellence


AccessThe Access with Excellence initiative, which is designed to ensure that students of all backgrounds have equal access to the many academic opportunities the University of Miami offers, includes enhancing student recruitment strategies, addressing student financial need, expanding access to unique academic opportunities for all students, and creating debt-reduction programs and support for financial literacy. Share your thoughts about this or any of the other seven Roadmap proposals and weigh in on the questions below via the Roadmap Initiative website, through the hashtag #UMRoadmap, or email.

  • Would these proposals adequately enhance access to the University of Miami?
  • Are there academic experiences beyond those identified that should be examined to ensure access for all students?

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Join the Conversation about the Roadmap to Our New Century: Problem-based Interdisciplinary Collaboration

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Join the Conversation about the Roadmap to Our New Century: Problem-based Interdisciplinary Collaboration


CollaborationThe Problem-based Interdisciplinary Collaboration initiative proposes new structural supports, leadership, systems, and financial support to maximize opportunities for all members of the University of Miami to work in collaborative teams on major global challenges in areas such as the environment, health, and technology. Share your thoughts about this or any of the other seven Roadmap proposals and weigh in on the questions below via the Roadmap Initiative website, through the hashtag #UMRoadmap, or email.

  • The proposals suggest several thematic areas for this effort. Are there other areas that could leverage UM’s strengths?
  • What are the best ways for UM to support interdisciplinary collaboration across disciplines? What should the University avoid doing that might hamper collaboration?

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