EDITOR'S NOTE: Eastern Michigan University's 15,000 students arrive in Ypsilanti from 50 states, and 83 countries, bringing with them diverse cultures and backgrounds. This series explores that diversity by featuring campus organizations designed to highlight and share the beauty of cultures from around the world.
Last week: Latinx Student Association
This week: African Student Association
Next week: Kapamilya Club
The African Student Association at Eastern Michigan University was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, but is bouncing back better than ever this year to show students what the organization is all about.
ASA is not just a group at EMU, however, as there are African Student Associations present at universities nationwide who connect through shared experiences.
“I’ve met so many great people being in this org and it’s always been like a great experience to meet new people,” Newlyn Stephenson, co-vice president of ASA at EMU, said. “The thing that I didn’t know when I joined ASA is that the concept of the African Student Association is nationwide at colleges and Michigan, we’re very prominent with our ASA’s, so like U of M has a really nice one, Michigan State, Wayne State, even Northern Michigan has an ASA.”
As a result, students who are members of ASAs across the state of Michigan often attend each other's events, leading to large networking and bonding experiences.
“It just turns into a big meeting of people, and just franchising out and having experiences,” Stephenson said. “Originally, I am from Chicago but my heritage is West Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, just the west coast of Africa. That’s where most of my heritage comes from.”
Stephenson, who has been a part of ASA since 2018, leads the organization alongside Ghanian President Sylvia Brobbey, co-VP Kevin Fofanah from Sierra Leone, Nigerian Secretary Udonsi Udensi, Treasurer Adrianna and Nigerian and Ethiopian Social Media and Public Relations Chair Maeti Udeh.
While Africa is made up of more than 50 countries, all unique and diverse, there are some things that all Africans can unite on.
“Everybody can be so diverse in what their sect does, but still have things in common, like at weddings or how food is cooked or how you introduce yourself to family members, and people can find similarities,” Stephenson said. “We might not cook the same in Nigeria as they do in Ethiopia, but we have the same look for partying or dancing or people that are like musicians and scholars and stuff like that.”
Like many other cultural organizations on campus, ASA is open to all EMU students.
“Even though we are a cultural org centered more towards African students and students in the diaspora, we do accept all people that are willing to learn about Africa and have an open mind to concepts about being African and things that Africans, or African-Americans or things that people in the diaspora go through,” Stephenson said.
When Stephenson first became a part of ASA, he got to spend time with older members and the founder who made the experience great and family-like, so he and co-VP Fofanah have the goal to bring that energy back for incoming members. The pair want people who are new to ASA to fall in love with the organization just as they did.
Another goal that ASA has this year is to bring more attention to the organization overall and have more EMU students join and participate in events.
“[We want] to get more people, have them feel at home, have a family and make it more lively in the organization,” Udensi said.
The way that the organization brings people together is with events. Among the main events that ASA hosts at EMU is the Taste of Africa, where the members cook traditional African food to sell to students and faculty, and stage a culture show.
“We do essentially a show based around things related to Africa, so poetry, fashion, skits, dance, and then we also collab with other orgs to have it,” Stephenson said. “In past years we’ve had like Poetry Society come through, we’ve done it with S.T.Y.L.E, other ASAs.”
At EMU, ASA meets at 3p.m. every other Friday in the Student Center to talk about discussions and events, as well as bond with each other.
During the latest ASA meeting, Oct. 14, board members brought up subjects related to African lifestyle and had people stand at signs that read from a spectrum of strongly agree to strongly disagree. After each prompt was read and people stood at their answer, the responses were discussed.
EMU students who are interested in joining can stop by ASA’s next meeting Oct. 28 or direct message the group on Instagram @emuasa. From there, members are added to a group chat where everyone talks and discusses what people want for the organization overall.
“We’re uniquely our own, nobody can copy the energy or the vibe that we have, it’s the fact that we can create good energy in almost any situation,” Stephenson said. “Don’t be afraid to come out and see what we’re about.”