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The expansion of the African Studies program is now a reality

By Luis Armando Sanchez Diaz, May 11 2021—

A student-led initiative that aims to expand the African Studies program in the Faculty of Arts was approved by the Quality Money Program committee of the University of Calgary’s Students’ Union (SU). 

It will receive close to $400,000 in the course of the next three academic years and “will [be] used to redesign the African Studies program and implement a series of courses for UCalgary students,” according to the SU portal.

In a conversation with the Gauntlet Dr. Caesar Apentiik, coordinator for the African Studies program at the University of Calgary and students Prudence Iticka, Sinit Abraha and Ebenezer Belayneh, highlighted the importance of the initiative and the extent to which the funding will have for the UCalgary community in coming years. 

“We are going to have a lot of funding for more initiatives and events on campus,” said Belayneh. “We are very excited because next year we are going to have the capacity to lead Black History Month as a Black-dominated department or program, which is going to be amazing. We are going to have the opportunity to invite some amazing African speakers, if the opportunity exists.” Belayneh also mentioned that the funding will help to celebrate African Liberation Day, observed and celebrated on May 25 in many African countries.  

“I think our vision for the program is to keep it community-centered and community-based. We want to work from the ground up and connect with local Africans that work and operate in our communities and we’re hoping for that money to be multiplied over the years. We want to be engaged with our community, we want to be engaged with scholars from across Canada and from across North America,” said Belayneh. 

“We’re really hoping to establish some linkages and grow this program even more over the next three years, and we’re also really hoping that the faculty creates a permanent position for the three-year temporary hire that is coming in next year.” he continued.

When asked about the next steps to take following the approval by the SU, Apentiik mentioned that the months ahead will help to plan further things needed, in order for the proposal to begin its incorporation to the current curriculum. 

“The first thing over the summer is advertising for a three-year limited appointment for the program, also putting the African Studies committee together [to] oversee how this program is going to run and also doing a lot of advertisement over the summer,” said Apentiik.

Apentiik and Belayneh also expressed that in addition to the Quality Money Program grant that the initiative will receive, the Faculty of Arts has committed to allocate $120,000 summing up in total more than half-a-million dollars over the following years. 

The funding will now open new opportunities for the entire UCalgary community and will provide a more in-depth understanding of African culture, community and traditions that have been historically overlooked through the new courses that will become available starting the 2022-23 academic year. 

“I am really excited, I’m [completing] an African studies minor,” said Iticka. “I’m so excited to have a diverse choice now of classes and also classes taught within the actual African Studies program. Right now, I’m taking classes in Political Science and History, but now it can be in our own department with African teachers — an African-centered space. I think it is so amazing that students will have this opportunity,” she continued.

“Students coming in the university will have an African Studies program, they’ll be courses to be enrolled in, they’ll have Black professors, hopefully more than one. I’m just finishing my third year and I haven’t had a single Black professor, yet. I am happy that is not what the reality is going to be for other students who will follow after me,” added Abraha. 

Apentiik emphasised that if students want to achieve a globalising and multicultural education, they must understand other regions of the world. 

“Africa is becoming a major player in the world stage. I would encourage you to look at the African Studies program as an option,” expressed Apentiik.

Iticka, Abraha and Belayneh encourage students to follow their beliefs and work together to achieve change. 

“The power does lie within the people and the students — if our institutions are failing us in any capacity, we can organize to fix that,” said Iticka. 

“If your department does not reflect the students who are sitting in your classes, then you have the right to fight for yourselves. You have a right to create spaces in your community. You have the right to fight for what you believe in,” said Belayneh “This program needed to be expanded and students made it happen.”

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