Illustration by: Brittni Barranco
Mar 31, 2014
By Angela Woodward
Ohio University’s African Student Union is gearing up for its annual celebration of African studies on OHIO’s campus – a celebration made even more special this year as the African Studies Program observes its 50th anniversary.
African Cultural Week will be held on the Athens Campus April 7-13 and will feature musical presentations, games, movies, speakers and alumni celebrations.
“The African Student Union has organized African Cultural Week for many years to just, with their own energies, inform their fellow students and the community here about everything they do, including food, music, intellectual pursuits and so forth,” explained Steve Howard, a professor in OHIO’s School of Media Arts and Studies who has served as the director of the University’s African Studies Program since 1991.
According to Howard, in honor of the African Studies Program’s 50th anniversary the African Student Union has partnered with the program as well as the African Language Association in planning this year’s African Cultural Week as well as numerous other events throughout the year to commemorate the anniversary. The group has also partnered on some events with the Ohio University Press, which is also marking its 50th anniversary.
The African Studies Program at OHIO was founded in 1964 by a group of faculty from the University’s College of Education.
Howard explained that in the late 1950s and early ’60s Ohio University had a number of government contracts through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to help develop teacher education programs in Africa. At the time, Africa was becoming decolonized, and by the end of the 1960s about three quarters of the countries on that continent had become independent members of the United Nations.
The government contracts awarded to the University involved several faculty members from OHIO’s College of Education living for several years in such African countries as Liberia and Nigeria where they set up facilities and programs to train educators.
“These faculty members understood that there was this continent with all these new countries, and they thought, ‘Why don’t we start teaching Americans about that at Ohio University,’” Howard said. “They returned to Athens, and they established the African Studies Program at Ohio University.”
It was the founding of the African Studies Program in 1964 that was the basis of the founding of the University’s Center for International Studies later that year, which has greatly increased the cultural diversity at OHIO for the past half-century. According to the University’s Office of Institutional Research, more than 410 students have received African Studies degrees at OHIO since 1987.
“These faculty members who came back from their work experiences in African believed that our young Americans needed to know about this newly independent continent, so that’s why they created this program,” Howard explained. “But over the years, for one reason or another, American interest sort of fell off, but African interest really grew gigantically to the point where there were some years in my early days of running this program where my entire group would be from the continent.”
In fact, Howard pointed out, Ohio University has more students from Ghana than any other university in the United States.
“The fact of the matter is, there aren’t the resources to study Africa in Africa, and one of my points in training all of these Africans is it’s my hope that they go home and try to encourage the study of Africa and develop these programs there,” Howard said. “I have a lot of former students who are doing good things across the continent in that regard.”
Howard keeps in touch with the African students he helped educate over the years, visiting them in their home countries multiples per year.
“I’ve really lost count,” he said when asked how many times he’s visited the continent. “The biggest joy in my life these days is I get to go and visit former students in these places.”
Howard also continues to visit Africa as an educator, accompanying OHIO students on study abroad trips to various African nations. He described the study abroad experiences OHIO offers in African as “eclectic,” noting that the University’s approach to study abroad in Africa has been pioneering.
“The old-fashioned model of study abroad in Africa is to send a bunch of students to say the University of Ghana in Accra and put them in a classroom and send the instructor along from here and have this American teacher teach them about Africa in American English in Ghana,” he explained. “The thing that we’ve sort of pioneered is trying to push our study abroad-interested students toward actual work experiences in Africa.”
Howard noted numerous programs offered by academic units throughout the University and the ways in which those programs are providing unique study abroad experiences in Africa to their students. The Patton College of Education, for example, used a grant from USAID to link OHIO students with a teacher-training college in Swaziland in southern Africa where the OHIO students actually taught in the schools, allowing them to interact with the local children, fellow teachers and the community.
“That really put the stamp on the Ohio University approach to study abroad in Africa,” Howard said, noting that the experience led to other work-in-Africa types of study abroad experiences for OHIO students.
In the Scripps College of Communication, Yusuf Kalyango Jr., an associate professor of journalism and director of OHIO’s Institute for International Journalism, has founded study abroad opportunities in Uganda, Zambia and Ghana, taking OHIO students to these countries to have actual journalistic experiences.
Gillian Ice, an associate professor in the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine’s Department of Social Medicine, is very active in establishing study abroad opportunities in Africa. Over the past several years, she has taken OHIO medical students to Kenya to engage in clinical experiences and has traveled with both medical and nursing students to Botswana for health-related internships.
“During my regime, we’ve really had an emphasis on African culture, and we’ve really had a lot of success in teaching people about Africa and exposing people to the continent,” Howard said. “I see African Cultural Week as another opportunity to trot out our mission, which is that I think African Studies makes an enormous contribution on this campus in terms of the diversity of the University and the fact that at Ohio University our American students can interact with Africans across the curriculum. This is really an amazing opportunity.”
For more information on African Cultural Week, visit http://www.african.ohio.edu/.
In a lead-up to Ohio University’s African Cultural Week festivities, “Africa Music: An Evening with Tinariwen” will be presented at 8 p.m. Friday, April 4, at Stuart’s Opera House in Nelsonville. A Tuareg band whose members originate from the southern Sahara, the music of Tinariwen was described in a recent New Yorker article as “rooted in electric and acoustic guitar, anchored by electric bass and some local percussion.” Tinariwen’s performance is presented by Stuart’s Opera House, Arts for OHIO and the African Studies Arts Collective. Tickets for the performance are free to OHIO students.
African Cultural Week officially kicks off Monday, April 7, with a 50th anniversary keynote address sponsored by the Ohio University Press. Syl Cheney-Coker will present “African Art, Literature and Power: Whose Narratives Matter?” at 7 p.m. in Baker University Center 240/242. A poet, novelist and journalist from Sierra Leone, Cheney-Coker’s latest book, “Sacred River,” was published by the Ohio University Press.
Festivities continue on Tuesday, April 8, with a Mancala/Oware game tournament from 3 to 6 p.m. in the Bobcat Student Lounge followed by a “50 Years of African Studies” keynote at 7 p.m. in Walter Hall 235. The keynote speaker will be Dr. Abdinur Sheikh Mohamed, an OHIO graduate, former minister of education in Somalia and the current leader of the Somali community in Columbus.
African Movie Night will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 9, in the Friends of the Library Room on the third floor of Alden Library.
Festivities on Thursday, April 10, will include African Languages Day from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Baker University Center Theatre. During this event, OHIO students studying seven African languages offered at the University as a federally-funded National Research Center for African Language and Area Studies will showcase their verbal talents through entertaining skits and other performances.
April 10 also marks the first day of the Sports in Africa Conference, which runs through Saturday, April 12. The opening event of the conference will be held at 4 p.m. in the Baker University Center Theater and will feature Lee Evans, a Fulbright professor and a two-time Olympic gold medalist in the 400 meter. A pre-conference panel featuring OHIO professors will be held from 2 to 3 p.m. in the Multicultural Center at Baker University Center.
On Saturday, April 12, an alumni reception will be held from 2:30 to 4 p.m. in the 1804 Lounge at Baker University Center followed by the “Passion for Africa Celebration Gala” from 6 to 11 p.m. in the Nelson Commons Ballroom. The evening will showcase African culture and cuisine while celebrating the past 50 years of friendship and memories.
African Cultural Week concludes on Sunday, April 13, with the 2014 African Student Union Heroine Lecture at 2 p.m. in the Friends of the Library Room at Alden Library. Founded in 1992 as African Heroes Night to commemorate Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, this year’s event will honor Elsa Chyrum, a human rights activist from Eritrea.