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Roxanne Campbell smiles as she stands next to her final project, "The Colour Purple."
Roxanne Campbell and her final project

In summer 2015, Roxanne Campbell, a student in Duke’s MFA program in experimental and documentary arts, fulfilled her dream of doing field work in the Caribbean.

Campbell, born in Kingston, Jamaica, and raised in Brooklyn, New York, visited five cities while conducting research for her study of the Caribbean Diaspora. She immersed herself in learning the language and the culture, and even decided to create a piece of artwork that juxtaposes animals in the Caribbean to those in the United States. She captured her experience on two state-of-the-art cameras, and the photos were going to become her final project.

After two weeks, however, her dream trip turned into a nightmare.

On the last day of her trip, Campbell and the director of the study-abroad program that organized the trip walked to a location she had seen the previous day to get some final photos. It was then that two men on a moped stopped them and demanded her backpack, which contained her two cameras, memory card, money, cell phone, and souvenirs. (See her advice on how to stay safe in the field)

Just like that, her entire final project was gone.

Upon returning to the United States, Campbell reported her incident with Florida International University, which sponsored the study-abroad program she was participating in. The news eventually reached Jacqueline Looney, senior associate dean for graduate programs at the Duke Graduate School. Looney reached out to Campbell, first via email and then in a meeting at the school, to offer her support and point her to resources on campus.

Roxanne Campbell with Jacqueline Looney and Wesley Hogan, director of the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke.
Roxanne Campbell (right) with Jacqueline Looney (left)
and Wesley Hogan, director of the Center for
Documentary Studies at Duke

It was then that Campbell realized for the first time that her support network at Duke wasn’t limited to just her department or program. Although she had visited The Graduate School’s offices regarding enrollment matters, she found out through her meeting with Looney that her support from the school extended well beyond that.

“The moral support I received from Dean Looney and knowing that there are people here at Duke who may be outside of my program that I can call on really mattered to me,” Campbell said. “As a graduate student, it’s good to know that people like Dean Looney exist and I have someone to talk to, someone who understands what I may be going through and can keep me focused on what matters most.”

As for her final project, although Campbell lost all of her work and research from the Caribbean trip, she was able to take another project that she had done on Afro-Caribbean culture and turn it into her final project, The Colour Purple. That work, which explores the representation of African and Afro-Caribbean culture and identity, is on view through April 25 at the Louise Jones Brown Gallery in the Bryan Center.

“I had to do more contextual research to better understand and connect the work that I lost to what I already had visually,” Campbell said. “My interest in creating a representation of the Afro-Caribbean Diasporas came together, especially when I learned how they are all connected through religious practices.”


Staying Safe While Doing Field Work Abroad

Based on her experience, Campbell suggested a few tips for graduate students conducting research abroad:

  • Register with the Duke International Travel Registry.
  • Check in with the consulate in the country you are traveling to and find out what the resources are. Some offer travel guides.
  • Save your work! Back up your work every night.
  • Know your surroundings and don’t travel alone. If you can, travel with a guide who is native and whom you trust.
  • Conceal your equipment and separate your personal items from your equipment bag. Limit the amount of equipment you carry at once.
  • Don’t carry your passport around with you. Make copies of all of your credentials and ID, and leave a copy at the front desk and in your luggage.