First Africa Week
Students participate in an African drumming performance in Page Commons as part of Africa Week.
- Breaking barriers to help all students feel at home
- Jewish students and historical perspectives
- On Africa Week: Group provides opportunities for cultural learning
Last week, the Colby African Society sponsored “My Africa: Arts and Culture,” a week of events designed to raise awareness about the culture of different African countries and present a different image of Africa than what students might normally see in the media.
Jean-Jacques Ndayisenga ’13, who is from Rwanda and is one of the organizers of the event week, said, “Let’s learn good things about Africa, too.” Africa Week aimed to show the positive aspects of African culture, as well as the controversial issues, with movie presentations, discussions, speakers, food and dancing.
On Thursday, Nov. 3, guest speaker Ebenezzer Akakpo from Ghana inspired his audience with his design of a U.V. water filter, which will help provide clean water to African villages. Akakpo encouraged the students to “not just appreciate the beauty of Africa and our countries but work to save our countries by introducing new technology.”
The week focused not only on Africa as a whole, but it also managed to highlight individual countries and cultures through film screenings, food and dances. Rumbidzai Gondo ’14, another organizer of the event week, said, “Cultures are best represented through the dance show….We are able to blend all the cultures.” Yet, Gondo said, “[There] is still a long way [to go] until Colby thinks of Africa as different cultures.”
Africa Week is an especially significant event now that the College has eliminated the African studies minor. Abigael Cheruiyot ’12, president of the Colby African Society said, “[The College doesn’t] offer African studies and a lot of Colby students just aren’t aware of the culture.” The African studies minor began as a result of a U.S. Department of Education Title VI Grant in the 1997-1998 academic year that was specifically created to focus on African studies. This included a study abroad program to South Africa, where students could take classes that counted towards the minor.
The College eliminated the program due to a lack of faculty with particular knowledge of the subject. Initially, when the program began, the College had the faculty to staff it. However, the College did not replace professors who left or retired, which weakened the program until it was finally eliminated after the 2009-10 academic year. At this time, the College does not offer a regular program of courses for students interested in studying African culture. Even within the global studies major there are significantly fewer courses focused on Africa—only seven overall.
In hosting Africa Week, the Colby African Society hoped to make the administration aware of a strong student interest in African studies and to continue to build student interest in African culture. Professor of Anthropology Catherine Besteman, who taught classes within the minor, commented, “It’s a contradiction that Colby claims to be a global campus and then is missing a major part of the world in the curriculum.” Africa is the second most populous and second biggest continent after Asia, and, with over one billion people, that is a significant part of the world to not be exploring.
Besteman, who currently teaches the course Ethnographies of Africa, said, “It’s not a lack of interest from the students. I have 20-25 students in my class and another 20-25 on the waiting list.”
The Colby African Society hopes to convince the administration to make improvements to the program—as they have done in the past in East Asian studies and Latin American studies—and to make the effort to acquire the necessary specialized faculty. Until the African studies program is reinstated, the Colby African Society will continue to host events to increase interest and awareness of the diverse cultures of Africa.