On Monday, students protested the closure of the Africa Center during Penn’s College Palooza, an annual fair hosted by the College of Arts and Sciences for prospective students.
The protest, which was led by a combination of students in the African Studies major, the Penn African Students Association and members of Students Organizing for Unity and Liberation, was sparked by the announcement that the Africa Center will close and the African Studies department will merge with the Center for Africana Studies.
“We are constantly told as a people that all of our stories are one, and they are not,” said College senior Oyinkan Muraina, who is a member of the Penn African Students Association.
Muraina explained that while the study of Africa and Africana studies are connected, they are hardly the same thing. Africana studies at Penn mostly focuses on the transatlantic slave trade and its aftermath, while African studies relates directly to the study of Africa.
“They are clearly different things, and it makes no sense to combine them,” Muriana said.
Above: Video of Monday's protest, filmed and edited by members of the protest. Courtesy of Levi Gikandi
College senior Charity Migwi, an African Studies major, sees this closure as a clear example of the lack of prioritization given to Africa. “This is a clear sign of who matters on this campus and who doesn’t, and Africa consistently falls short,” Migwi said.
The protest was staged to intentionally grab the attention of prospective students in order to encourage University action.
“We chose this venue because Penn responds to people whose voices matter, and prospective students and their parents are one of them,” Migwi said. “It is my opinion that Penn wants to sweep this under the rug. Well, now they can’t.”
Despite the clear feeling of protesters that African studies is not a priority on campus, School of Arts and Sciences Dean Steven Fluharty maintained that this was not the case.
“Repositioning the activities of the Africa Center is not an abandonment of its core missions. Elimination of federal funding on many fronts has forced the School of Arts and Sciences to rethink how we best support our highest priorities,” Fluharty said in an email.
Fluharty stressed that while the administration recognizes the difference between Africana and African studies, they see the benefit in combining the programs under one roof.
“We understand fully that the study of ‘Africa’ and the study of the ‘African diaspora’ can mean very different things. But it is also the case that the study of each of these areas can beneficially inform one another,” Fluharty said.
Despite the Dean’s insistence that the loss of federal funding is to blame, many students disagree.
“They say it’s financial, but I don’t really get that. The center only had three staff [members],” Migiwi said. “We’re shutting down the only center for African Studies, but Penn is opening a whole new center in Beijing.”
College Palooza targeted admitted students visiting campus for Quaker Days. Some prospective undergraduates at the fair said that the protest made them more likely to come to Penn. “This affects how I feel about Penn positively,” high school senior Saracanez Chafik said.
“I think it’s really cool to see the students being so passionate,” added another prospective student.
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