Why I joined the Day of Reclamation at Brown

‘Those who are unaware and uninterested will remain that way’

Yesterday at 1:30pm, I joined a beautiful collection of students of color in the Leung Family gallery to work on our demands regarding the Diversity and Inclusion Plan. This space is usually eerily quiet and, although not originally intended as a study space, that is kind of what it has ended up being.

Photo credit: Rudy Martin

For me, it was an incredible opportunity to take part in the process of reclaiming myself and my identity here on this campus. The identity that I want to protect and uphold is my identity as an African woman. I was born in Philadelphia, but spent most of my life living in Lagos, Nigeria.

Being Nigerian is a huge part of who I am. It is the lens through which I view life, and it informs my interactions with people on this campus. No matter what, I never want to forget where I come from. So before arriving at Brown, I was excited to hear I would be able engage with my African identity academically by way of the university’s Africana studies department.

But here’s the thing. Africana studies is not the same as African studies. Africana studies deals with the African diaspora and the heritage of those who were forced into the slavery or migrated from the continent. African studies, on the other hand, is the study of Africa and the countries within the continent. And I was shocked to find no more than two classes offered on continental Africa.

This is supposed to be diversity and inclusion?

I was then, and continue to be now, disappointed that there area studies on East Asia, the Middle East and Latin America, but no focus on continental Africa. As a continent, Africa is constantly ignored and pushed to the sidelines. Just two weeks ago, Major General James Marks, CNN military analyst, said, “Black West Africa is not a priority.”

It is this constant erasure and belittling of my cultural heritage that I was fighting yesterday.

By 4:30pm, the Leung Gallery had filled with students, faculty, administrative staff and members of press for a public reading of the drafted list of demands. This is a movement following on from the demands of students before us in 1968, some of which to this date have not been met. We do not only want these demands to be heard and considered, but to be acted upon. We want structures put into place for these demands to be met.

Photo credit: Rudy Martin

One of the demands I want to highlight is the creation of a graduation requirement to be fulfilled by courses that engage with class, gender, sexuality and/or ability. It is a demand I wholeheartedly support.

As Brown graduates, we must be made aware of the intersections of identity that are present in our world and on our campus. The reason this coursework must be made a requirement is because otherwise, the only people taking these courses are those who are electing to do so — likely because they are already sensitive, interested and aware of the issues. Meanwhile, those who are unaware and uninterested will remain that way and never gain a new perspective.

Although Brown is famously laissez-faire when it comes to requirement, we cannot allow ignorance to be an option.

Photo credit: Rudy Martin

I also put forth the construction of the International Center, which will be the center for international students at Brown. Many international students struggle with a unique set of issues which are not always effectively addressed, namely, homesickness, assimilating into life in America and a language barrier, among others. This center should be a liaison for international students and campus resources that can help us navigate life here at Brown.

The percentage of international students here may be small, but we are here and we are very present.

Following the Day of Reclamation, President Paxson has extended the community engagement period to January 8.

Let’s take this opportunity. Submit the feedback form here.

Photo credit: Rudy Martin

Photo credit: Rudy Martin

Photo credit: Rudy Martin

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