The Davidson African Students Association, 2003/4
Authored by Anisha Dhungana ’21 in “Beyond the International Festival, the Lives of Black International Students at Davidson College“
last updated 02.10.2021
The early 2000’s saw an increase in the number of international and multicultural student groups on Davidson’s campus, in particular with the formations of the Davidson International Association (DIA) and the Davidson African Student Organization (DASA), both formed in 2002. This fourth picture was taken at one of DASA’s events in 2003/04. In the photo, we see three students dressed in traditional, African clothing while dancing, laughing, and having fun on stage. Above them, there are two white women walking up the stairs, smiling down at the student performers on stage. This photo was donated by an anonymous donor who identified the students from left to right as Catherine Endeley (‘05), Emmanuel Amos-Abanyie (‘04) and Amartey Nuno-Amarteifio (‘05). While most of the people on stage are wearing traditional clothes from their home countries, there are two pairs of hands that we see on the edges of the photograph that are wearing sweaters, one of which is a Davidson sweatshirt, and one pair of hands belonging to a person who is not Black.
It is important to acknowledge the presence of white people on this stage and on the staircase, as one of DASA’s purposes, as written in their current constitution and bylaws, states that DASA is committed to nourishing cultural, intellectual, political, and economic awareness about the African continent. It aims to create a network and support system for African students and students of African descent. At the same time, DASA is open to all members of the Davidson community interested in the advancement of humanity in Africa (Davidson African Students Association n.d.).
One of the founders and the first president of DASA, who we see in this photo, Emmanuel Amos-Abanyie, said that during his first year at Davidson, he was only one of five African students in the entire student body. Fortunately, the next two years cohorts brought more African students with them, allowing him and his peers to finally create DASA. He shared that his main goal and vision for DASA was to have an avenue where we could highlight African related issues. Although there was an international students association, we felt that having a group dedicated to African issues was important…It was a pride for us African students because it gave us an opportunity to highlight a lot of positive aspects of African culture and it also allowed us, the African students, to form great bonds beyond the disparate alliances we had (Amos-Abanyie, personal communication, Nov. 28, 2020).
As both quotations show, DASA was formed to create deeper connections and relationships within the African students community as well as the larger Davidson community. They wanted to share their cultures, break common stereotypes about Africa, and highlight important issues about the continent. The focus on forming intercultural ties and the importance of the participation of the white community at Davidson represents the type of relationships and experiences that African students want at Davidson. Organizations such as DASA, OLAS, SASA, DIA, MENASA, BSC, and other affinity groups seek to create cross-cultural connections, immersing themselves into Davidson life, while also sharing and holding on to their own culture to try to emulate experiences from the home that they have, temporarily, left behind.
However, as the infrared eyes of the white women on the stairs shows, exemplars of the ever-present white gaze placed on Black and Brown bodies, it can be difficult to engage with the white community and administration at Davidson who continuously essentialize the international, and particularly the Black international student experience to the international festivals. DASA was created primarily for this reason as well, since the international association was not seen as encompassing the various identities under the umbrella organization. To the Davidson student body, the international festival will most likely be the only event organized by DIA that they will attend, mainly because of the food; the chances that they have gone to a DASA event is even lower, especially if it does not have jollof. This relationship between white students and international students, who want to further the connection beyond food, is something that has been ongoing for a very long time and continues to this day. International students, as shown by those on stage wearing Davidson sweatshirts and non-traditional dresses, have to undergo this process of assimilation and are obliged to engage with American culture, unlike white students.
Just in 2019, a member of the executive board of DASA, Tanatswa Muchenje, wrote a perspectives piece for The Davidsonian titled “A Call to Campus: Come find out more about the Davidson African Students Association.” In the article, Tanatswa is, again, calling for people from varying backgrounds and identities to join DASA to learn more about their identities and experiences because “that is mostly what makes us who we are. I believe this, more than anything, can make us feel like we belong in this space just like every other student here at Davidson” (Muchenje 2019). Through respectfully engaging with organizations like DASA, white students and non-African students can begin to broaden their understanding of not only the world, but especially their fellow classmates who are trying to create multicultural relationships and a space of their own at a predominantly white campus like Davidson.
Nevertheless, students across identity groups continue to place their mark on Davidson’s campus and this photo epitomizes this act. Taken in the Student Union atrium, the center of student activities at Davidson, these three African students are proudly wearing their traditional clothes from Ghana and Cameroon while celebrating themselves, their achievements and their culture. This photo of Black joy, culture and resilience of African students during an event organized by DASA exemplifies the ways in which Black international students have danced to their own beat and made themselves heard through it all.