YASA: a resource and community for students from and interested in Africa

Every Wednesday at 9 p.m., African and Africanist students congregate in the Lighten Room of Yale’s Afro-American Cultural Center to discuss their unique experiences as Africans at Yale and in America, to debate political and socio-economic issues currently facing the African continent, and maybe even to pick up new African songs for their playlists as members of the Yale African Students Association.

The Yale African Students Association, or YASA as it is commonly called, was founded in 1993 by a group of African students, including its first president, Karen Isatu Barrie ‘96, as a resource for African students and those with an “interest and concern about Africa.” Speaking back in 1993, one student said joining was a way “to know more African students, to have a forum to talk about Africa with Africans, to gain a sense of community, and to give the Yale community positive images of Africa.”

Group portrait of YASA members.
Students gather for "Welcome to YASA: The First Meeting” in the Lighten Room of the Afro-American Cultural Center.

More than 20 years later, YASA continues be a resource for African and Africanist students on campus. The group is dedicated to being a cultural, social, and political group of students that provides a community of friendship and intellectual discussions, promotes and represents the rich African culture on campus, and provides a forum for discussion and action on current affairs.

YASA is the piece of Yale that I truly own,” said Malaika Aryee-Boi ’19, current publicity chair of YASA, who hails from Ghana and Cameroon. “Since my first year here, the YASA community has been so important in making me feel like I belong here too, and has been a space that offers me advice on how to manage Yale, but also one that has shown me love. That's why it’s easy for me to show the first-years so much YASA love — I want them to have the same experience.”

Now composed of more than 60 members, the Yale African Students Association boasts a calendar filled with a range of programming aimed at fostering this sense of community. The year began with flagship events to welcome freshmen into the community, culminating in the annual YASA Barbeque in September. Over the course of the year, weekly meetings allow students to regularly congregate to discuss issues or check in with one another, while popular events like African Love Affair and Senior Dinner allow the community to come together over the year to celebrate each other.

To me YASA is not like any other student group on campus,[because] if anything, it has become my family,” said Clevance Mbilinyi ’20, treasurer of YASA, who is from Tanzania. “I have learned a lot about how to do Yale right through some of the YASA members, and most importantly I have learned a lot about other African countries.”

Students holding flags of African countries.
Pictured during a flash mob, held in Commons at the Schwartzman Center as part of Africa Week, are (from left) Jesse Kimotho ‘20, Resla Wesonga ‘19, Ian Irungu ‘19, Nardos Kebede ‘20, Ademide Ajayi ‘19, Malaika Aryee-Boi ‘19, Naima Amraan ‘20.

One of the organization’s flagship events is Africa Week, a celebration of contemporary Africa on campus, which will be held this year Nov. 6–12. The annual event aims to raise awareness and knowledge about Africa on campus, while also introducing people to new questions and ideas being discussed on the continent. (Watch this video from the 2015 celebration.) This year’s edition is themed “Tomorrow in Africa” and will both reflect on the past and consider present trends, opportunities and challenges in order to predict the future of the African continent in various fields. The week will include talks by speakers from the continent, an interactive trivia night, and a cultural show and dinner. Details about Africa Week will be announced soon.

From the Wednesday meetings to Africa week, YASA events have been a highlight of my time at Yale,” said Naima Amraan ’20, current secretary for YASA, who is from Kenya. “I have learned a lot by being a part of YASA through my interaction with African students from all over the world — from the diverse cultures  to the many similarities we share despite being from different parts of the world.”

Those interested in joining the organization are invited to come to the Wednesday YASA meetings at the Afro American Cultural Center, 221 Park St. For additional information, visit YASA’s Facebook page or Youtube channel, or send the group an email.

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