“I am a fisherman’s daughter and I am not afraid of rough seas,” says Professor Violet Eudine Barriteau, the newly inducted Pro Vice-Chancellor and Principal of The University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus.
Speaking before a packed assemblage at her induction at the Roy Marshall Teaching Complex that included regional leaders, senior officials, academics, educators and activists, Professor Barriteau in one sentence affirmed her identity, the challenges she now faces as campus principal, and the determination that has marked her over 30-year career.
Not only is she the first female principal of the campus in Cave Hill, Barbados, Principal Barriteau is a professor of Gender and Public Policy. In many ways, her appointment is partly the result of the scholarship and advocacy that she and gender specialists like her have engaged in for decades to advance the position of women in the Caribbean.
“As the first woman to serve in this capacity,” she says, “I recognise the significance of this appointment and I am humbled to join all the women who have served UWI with distinction, sometimes with recognition and often without.”
Friend and colleague Professor Rhoda Reddock, Deputy Principal of the St Augustine Campus, herself a highly regarded gender scholar, says that Principal Barriteau “has spent much of her career labouring to effect policy change in the region, and because of this she has served as an inspiration and mentor to the younger generation of Caribbean feminists and future leaders of our nations.”
Her labours on behalf of Caribbean women and the promotion of a new gender paradigm have made Professor Barriteau one of the most respected — and in some cases feared experts in her field. Pro Vice-Chancellor Professor Dale Webber of the Mona Campus, says she is both a “defender of rights” and “articulate and unrelenting”.
Among the highlights of this over 3 decade journey are the development of an original model to analyse Caribbean gender systems, which was adopted by CARICOM for their development programmes, her appointment as Head of the Centre for Gender and Developmental Studies and the creation of the Summer Institute within the centre, her body of well-recognised published work (this includes The Political Economy of Gender in the Twentieth Century Caribbean), and her ascension to the presidency of the International Association for Feminist Economics.
Speaking on the scope of her contribution to society, Doville Inniss, the Minister of Industry, International Business, Commerce and Small Business Development says, “Her journey here in Barbados has been very instructive and beneficial, not just for us in Barbados but for the entire Caribbean.”
Her work, her willingness to step into the arena for her causes, her laser focus on gender, these are the more public aspects of Principal Barriteau’s character. But she is more than a gender warrior. In her words and writing, in her life experience, in the way she relates to her friends, colleagues, students and the wider society, she is very much a Caribbean woman.
“Principal Barriteau,” says UWI Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, “born in the Spice Isle of Grenada, partly bred there, but also bred on the breadfruit of Barbados, represents the alignment of ancestral wisdom with contemporary sensibility.”
She recounts her childhood in Grenada, standing on the cliff looking out at the waters of Sauteurs Bay.
“The little girl has grown up,” she says, “but the hill and the sea remain inextricably linked in my Caribbean story.”
In recognition of her connection to her original home, Grenada, Prime Minister Keith Mitchell attended her induction ceremony on December 12 of this year.
Principal Barriteau has been a member of the Cave Hill Campus administration since 2004, a “homegrown” leader in the words of Sir Hilary. This experience, combined with her powerful personality and dedication, and her vision for the campus and wider society, will be her tools in a time when UWI faces several challenges.
Growing financial constraints and greater competition from regional and international tertiary institutions have created an uncertain environment for the Caribbean university. Cave Hill is experiencing its share of that uncertainty, the “rough waters” as Principal Barriteau describes the situation.
In her approach to these circumstances, her vision seems to be one of forward momentum and greater social engagement:
“The Cave Hill Campus does not and will not represent or tolerate intellectual darkness, isolation or retreat from engagement with the issues confronting our societies and region. Not only are we here to stay, we are here to offer increasingly vital strategies and solutions in the ongoing improvement of life and societal well-being within Barbadian and Caribbean societies.”
Time will tell how she will navigate the challenges ahead, but one thing seems certain, across the board, those who know her best are convinced that Principal Barriteau is the right woman for the job.