MSSP 797: Whose Colony? Politics, Identity and Social Policy in Revolutionary Cuba (1959-2017)


This course is not currently scheduled.


There is no application available at this time.

Course Description

A busy street in Cuba

Cuba represents one of the world’s long-standing institutionalized revolutions whose narrative and policies have changed from a strong nationalism yearning for Independence, to an alignment with communism’s ideology and modus operandi, to a nostalgic, post-Soviet Union ‘socialism’ ruled by a binary, state-controlled capitalism. In additional to the myriad of social and political changes affecting the island, the transition of leadership from Fidel Castro to his brother, Raul, and the death of the former in 2016, has put into question the theoretical pillars of the Revolution, thus undermining its initial legitimacy. This course is designed to provide students with the critical and analytical tools to dissect Cuban revolutionary politics, policies, and identity mutations within the island’s historical trajectory. We will begin by critically reviewing key points of diplomatic and historical relationships between the U.S. and Cuba, followed by an analysis of the notion of Independence – upon which Castro relied to gather massive support – in the context of the 60’s debates on decolonization and underdevelopment. In addition, we will delve into the theoretical foundations of the Revolution focusing, among other texts, on the literature by Cuba’s ‘founding father’ Jose Marti, who deeply influenced the Spanish-American war’s (1898) outcomes as well as Fidel Castro’s vision for Cuba. Through the course, students will also have the opportunity to critically read and discuss main Cuban social policies such as its famous Literacy Campaign, and other Education, Housing, Cultural, Health, and Immigration policies, as well as the island’s complex relationship with technological development and communications. Finally, we will study identity and race dynamics, which are inextricably embedded in Cuba’s political landscape.

The course will begin with seven classroom sessions at the University of Pennsylvania, followed by nine days (during Spring Break) of cultural activities in Havana, Cuba. Once in the island, students will visit key historical and cultural sites such as El Museo de la Revolucion, El Museo de la Alfabetization, and La Escuela de Artes Plasticas. Parallel to these endeavors, students will also engage in conversations with distinguished Cuban scholars and cultural critics. Lastly, students are required to develop a research project on a particular Cuban social policy and produce a final paper or writing/multimedia project.

Students are expected to work on their final papers/projects during the pre-departure sessions at Penn. While in Havana, students will meet scholars and social policy experts, visit main cultural sites and participate in different activities. Students will be able to use their free time (usually in the evening) to do fieldwork or research.

Sample Itinerary for Cuba Visit

This is a sample itinerary based on previous course arrangement. Speakers and excursions for 2019 will be finalized in the spring and may differ from previous years’ courses.

Day 1

Arrival in Havana

Check-in at bed and breakfasts, known as ‘casa particulares’

Welcome dinner at Mediterraneo Havana

Day 2

Walking tour of Old Havana’s Historic Center

Socio-economic discussion with urban planner Miguel Coyula

Lunch at La Makina Gastro Bar

Visit to the Museum of the Revolution

Evening free

Day 3

Behind the scenes tour of Old Havana

Visit the Taller Experimental de Grafica

Lunch at Dona Eutimia paladar

Community Health tour of Old Havana with Barrio Habana

Visit to the Lizt Alfonso Academy (a women-led dance company and school for local youth)

Evening free

Day 4

Discussion with Dr. Marcelino Feal

Visit to the Museum of Cuban Art

Light lunch at El Cafe

Visit a centuries-old mansion in Vedado neighborhood

Discussion about Cuban culture and art with a family of artists, at AltaMira art loft

Evening free

Day 5

Morning discussion with Cristina Escobar about US-Cuba relations

Lunch at La Moraleja Paladar

Visit to the Faculty of Artes Plasticas at ENA

Discussion with La Reyna y Real (a female hip hop/jazz duo)

Evening free

Day 6

Visit to the Literacy Museum

Discussion with Greselda Aguilera (a leader in the literacy campaigns of the 1960s)

Enjoy a traditional Cuban meal overlooking the Straits of Florida at the Hotel Nacional

Discussion with Yamina Vicente (economist and entrepreneur)

Visit Vinilos Decorazon

Day 7

Morning discussion with Cuban diplomat, essayist, education, and political analyst Carlos Alzugaray

Lunch at Bone’ma

Spend the early evening at Cafe Madrigal with Frank Delgado

Day 8

Head to Eastern Havana for a tour of Alamar and Havana’s eastern beaches

Farewell dinner at Paladar Atelier

Day 9

Check-out and depart for airport


This course is open to all Penn graduate students, with preference given to SP2 students

Fluency in Spanish is recommended but not required.

Students must be open-minded and have an appreciation for different worldviews and opinions.

Enrollment Requirements

In order to participate in this course, students will need
  • a valid passport
  • previous travel experience recommended but not necessary
Prior to departure, students will need to submit the following to SP2
  • Health Review Form
  • Liability Form
  • Creation of a MyTrips profile
  • Copy of passport

Costs & Fees


Students are charged regular course tuition from their home program for this course.

Program Fee: $1,650 to Cuba Educational Travel

In additional to tuition, there is a program fee of $1,650 to cover the cost of guides, lecturers, transportation in Cuba, tours, and meals that are part of the official course itinerary. This includes:

  • 8-night accommodation in Cuba
  • Daily breakfast and lunch M-F, other meals (as specified on the itinerary)
  • Full time, professional, bilingual guide for activities
  • Local ground transportation for listed activities
  • Compliance with U.S. Treasure Department regulations
  • Speaker fees
  • Cuban visa
  • Admission to all museums and public buildings listed in itinerary
Additional Expenses

(not included with the program fee)

  • Round-trip airfare
  • Meals and activities not listed on itinerary
  • Tips for local guides, drivers, etc
Billing and Financial Aid

This course is part of the Spring 2019 schedule and will be billed accordingly. Financial aid is applied to the Spring 2019 term.

SP2 Student International Travel Fund

SP2 students may be eligible to receive an award from the SP2 Student International Travel Fund to offset a portion of the cost of airfare/program fee if they have financial need. Students apply for a travel award when they apply for the course, and they will be notified of their travel award amount before they need to commit to the class. Students who receive this award will have it distributed as financial aid and it will be posted to the student’s financial aid account in the term in which the course is offered.


A classic car in Cuba

Housing will be arranged by Cuba Educational Travel. Students will stay at ‘casas particulares’ (private homes), double occupancy. Single occupancy rooms are available for an additional charge.


At least two meals a day, with an occasional third, are provided by Cuba Educational Travel. Students should plan to pay for some meals on their own.

Additional Information

MSSP Program

This course is pre-approved as an elective in the MSSP program

MSW Program

This course is pre-approved as a general elective in the MSW program.

Global Human Rights Certificate

This course is not pre-approved to fulfill requirements for the Global Human Rights certificate. However past students have successfully petitioned for this course to count towards the Global Human Rights Certificate in consultation with their adviser.

Contact Information

Questions about the course
Questions about financial aid

Contact the SP2 Office of Financial Aid at

Photos generously provided by Marisa Gonzalez.

SP2 News

U.S./Mexico border with wall in foreground and mountains behind

Faculty & Research

The state of U.S. immigration

Immigration is once again front and center in the national debate. Approximately 65,000 Afghans have been evacuated to the United States after...

Dennis Culhane stands in front of a class of students. All are wearing face masks.

Faculty & Research

‘The passionate pursuit of social justice’

The School of Social Policy & Practice addresses social inequities through research. After majoring in psychology, John Gyourko spent 10 years exploring...

School of Social Policy & Practice sign on the Caster Building seen with pink azaleas.

Student Life, Alumni Stories

SP2 Mentor Collective Connects Students with Supportive Alums

Navigating the student experience at a rigorous Ivy League institution like Penn – and planning for what comes next—comes with...

Jennifer Prah

Faculty & Research

New Director of the Ortner Center

Dean Sara S. Bachman is delighted to announce the appointment of Jennifer J. Prah, Amartya Sen Professor of Health Equity,...

Discover More