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Jazz Band trip to Cuba could lead to petition signing

If the TCU Jazz Band’s upcoming trip to Cuba proves to be safe and successful, the university might consider signing a petition asking President Barack Obama to lift study abroad restrictions off Cuba, Director of Jazz Studies Curt Wilson said.

A petition sent to the Obama Administration by the Association for International Educators and the Association of International Education Administrators on behalf of 28 American colleges and universities requested that Obama remove the current restrictions placed on study abroad trips to Cuba.

Although TCU was not one of the 28 schools to sign the petition, thoughts on the practicality of studying abroad in Cuba might change after the jazz band returns from the Havana International Jazz Festival, Wilson said.

Wilson said the band was invited to go to Havana by Harmony International at the Texas Music Educators Conference last February in San Antonio. Harmony International, a company that coordinates and sponsors tours and projects abroad for organizations, has assisted groups to several trips to Cuba for seven or eight years.

According to the original petition, the current restrictions on academic travel to Cuba, set in 2004, all but stopped any type of educational exchange between the United States and Cuba.

Audrey Burkhart, a member of the TCU Veteran International Student Ambassador Program, or VISA Corps, said students could benefit from studying abroad in Cuba, especially because it is a destination that most Americans have not been able to experience firsthand.

“It’d be really interesting to just see the atmosphere that’s down there because that’s what you do when you study abroad,” Burkhart said. “You go and learn about a different culture.”

Burkhart, a senior musical theater major, agreed with Wilson that a potentially beneficial jazz band trip to Cuba would be a great basis to start conversation about signing the petition.

Wilson said the difference between the jazz band’s trip and a study abroad trip to Cuba was the band’s obligation to perform and learn more about the Cuban musical influence, not for travel reasons.

“Everybody’s got to have a job,” Wilson said. “It cannot be a tourist thing.”

Ryan Gilbert, TCU Jazz Band’s lead trumpet player, said other factors may also contribute to the jazz band’s privilege to travel to Cuba.

“I would guess primarily, maybe, due to the length of time we’re there,” Gilbert said. “And also due to the fact that we were invited by people who are at least somewhat connected to Cuban authorities.”

Harmony International President Brad Matheson did not immediately respond to voice mails about sponsoring the jazz band’s trip to Cuba.

Lisa Hart, a member of the TCU VISA Corps, wrote in an e-mail that she would be in favor of lifting the ban on studying abroad in Cuba because every country has its own culture and value.

“Study abroad can be a life-changing experience and the more opportunities students have to take advantage of that, the better,” Hart, a senior political science major, wrote.

Chancellor Victor Boschini said the issue would have to be discussed more in-depth before he could release whether the university would consider signing the petition.

Schools that signed the petition, including Duke University, the University of Michigan, the University of Iowa and Kansas State University, did not immediately respond to voicemails or could not release an official statement about why they signed the petition.

Wilson said that although some colleagues raised an eyebrow about the jazz band traveling to Cuba, the jazz band was excited to learn more about Cuban culture and its influence on American jazz music.

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