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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Mass. Maritime to Open On-campus Center for Inclusion

Maritime Activity Reports, Inc.

August 7, 2023

(Photo: Massachusetts Maritime Academy)

(Photo: Massachusetts Maritime Academy)

Massachusetts Maritime Academy (MMA) is set to open a new office on campus that promotes diversity, equity and inclusion through programs, events and student support initiatives.

MMA's Office of Intercultural Engagement named its new office the Captain Paul Cuffe Center for Inclusion, in honor of the master mariner, philanthropist, abolitionist and education advocate. Approved by unanimous vote of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy Board of Trustees, the Cuffe Center is housed inside of the newly constructed Fantail Student Center and is set to officially open in September of this year.

The new center will seek to foster a sense of belonging and supportive environment for students of all backgrounds, the academy said. Efforts include diversity, equity, and inclusion programs and events, international student services, education abroad experiences, bias incident response, The Women’s Coalition, advice for first-generation students, and support for LGBTQ+ students.

The center will also continue the legacy of its namesake, a man whose life’s work revolved around social justice.

Born on Cuttyhunk Island in 1759, the son of a freed slave and member of the Wampanoag tribe, Capt. Cuffe joined his first whaling voyage at the age of 14. He went on to become a successful mariner, whaling captain, merchant, entrepreneur and abolitionist, who used his influence to enact change for people of color in the maritime industry.

He also established the first integrated school, located in Westport, Mass., where students of all races were welcomed to learn together. In 1812, Cuffe was one of the first Black men to formally meet with a sitting U.S. president (James Madison) and was likely the wealthiest Black man in America during the course of his life, making his fortunes sailing the Atlantic and New England coastline. The captain fought for change in the voting rights of Black men, and risked imprisonment and enslavement in his efforts toward social justice.

“We are excited not only to honor this individual’s extraordinary life, but also to bring awareness to the importance of representation in the industry,” said Patrick Nobrega, Director of the Captain Paul Cuffe Center for Inclusion. “There is no expiration date on excellence, and through the new center we look to ground ourselves in the accomplishments of those who came before – while looking to the future.”

“Captain Paul Cuffe overcame massive adversity to achieve the success he did, all the while advocating for equality and enacting change for the betterment of his community,” said Michael Ortiz, Dean of Enrollment, Equity & Inclusion. “We’re honored to name the center after him and have him as a beacon of principled leadership for our campus community.”

Over the summer, the space will come to life with designs dedicated to telling the story of Captain Cuffe and will be unveiled during a grand opening event in September. The space will also feature an original piece by award-winning Native artist and Cuffe family descendent Elizabeth James Perry.

“The academy wishes to thank Cuffe family descendants Robert Kelley and Elizabeth James Perry, as well as Carl Cruz of the New Bedford Historical Society, for their support in the naming of the Center,” Ortiz said. “We’d also like to thank Dr. Bruce Rose and the entire New Bedford Whaling Museum staff, including Dr. Akeia de Barros Gomes, former curator of the Paul Cuffe Exhibit.”

“By honoring the namesake of our new center, we continue Captain Cuffe’s legacy of philanthropy, social change, and positive impact within the Academy’s community,” said Rear Admiral Francis X. McDonald, USMS, president of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy. “The center stands as both a tribute to and acknowledgement of the many strides this remarkable individual made in his life-long pursuit of social justice.”