The Center for African Studies: A Look Back During the 50th Anniversary

By: Tesay Yusuf

Home: Solace, Strength, Community from Stanford African Studies on Vimeo.

The Center for African Studies is the home of the African Studies program at Stanford. CAS serves not only as an intellectual space, but also a community space. The 50th anniversary of CAS meant many things to so many people. In order to reflect that, we created an exhibit of photographs taken by a CAS alum of members of the community. People wrote on their hands what CAS meant to them and so it was a chance for students, faculty, alumni, and our whole community to reflect on what it means to us.

 

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What does having a center and a community mean?

To me, CAS means comfort, and that’s what I wrote on my hand for my portrait. CAS is a place where I can feel comfortable in who I am. I have multiple spaces like that on campus, and each provides comfort in a different way. CAS is somewhere I can walk in, request a song, and get into the mood I need for that day. It’s a place I can vent, order ice cream for the whole office when we’re stressed, and plan a party in a matter of hours to get everyone’s spirits up. It’s way more than just a job. It’s a welcoming place, a place where people try to feel for one another. It’s a dynamic space, and I think everyone makes it into what they want for themselves. If you’ve never been, I would definitely encourage everyone in the Black community(ies) to come see it for yourself. Check out the exhibit, request a song that will get played just for you, and feel what’s going on at CAS.

Below are previously unreleased photos from the CAS 50th Anniversary Celebration this past Spring.

The Great Unsettling Of Sophomore Year

By: Astrid Casimire  

My second year at Stanford is in full swing, and I’m feeling more unsettled than ever. In fact, I’m outright struggling to feel at peace here.

It comes as a shock to me more than anything, because I thought that surely, after weathering the ups and downs of freshman year, I’d be well-adjusted and ready to tackle sophomore year like a boss, without a hitch. I’d hit the ground running and stay running for the entire year because I had so much energy and excitement building up in me after three months of rejuvenation and spirit-restoration back in sweet T&T.
Wrong.
So, so wrong.
Nothing is as picture-perfect as it seems

Like I said, this year I find it harder than ever to settle down and feel at home. And as I try to pinpoint the reason, I’m running into all kinds of contradictions. Because I have every reason to be oh-so-happy, but, frankly, I’m just not. Let me tell you why.
I thought, Wow, I’ve got a new dorm + a bigger room + enough space for a couch (s/o to Toyon’s 2-room double) + an awesome roommate! 
I thought, Hey, my class schedule is on point: HumBio Core (which I’m excited about despite its reputation for being difficult) + Spanish + Creative Writing = the perfect mix of classes that slot right in with my academic interests.
I thought, Gee I have this perfect extracurricular mix of things that I enjoy and things that are important to me.
I thought, Wowza, I can’t wait to reconnect with old friends + establish new relationships with dormmates, classmates & clubmates. How fulfilling!
And don’t get me wrong, these have all been positives of sophomore year so far.
In fact, in theory, I felt like I had the perfect formula for navigating sophomore year successfully. I thought, I have so much going for me right now; that darn sophomore slump won’t get to me, that’s for sure. But no matter how many why-I-love-sophomore-year lists I make, or schedules I do to organize my day, or efforts I put out to stay engaged, I cannot force myself to feel fulfilled and settled. In reality, a perfect theoretical formula doesn’t guarantee smooth sailing at all. Because we’re human. We’re complicated. Emotions get in the way. Not everything can be explained by theory.
¡Qué bonita!
In reality, I set my expectations way too high and was sorely disappointed to find out that being back at Stanford just isn’t as exciting as it was Freshman year(this is so hard to admit, because I believe high expectations = high standards. But it’s to be expected though, right? Everything’s not new and invigorating anymore. Why did I think it would be?). I don’t understand it, because Stanford is a fantastic place in so many ways – we’ve got a beautiful, sprawling campus, perfect weather, great infrastructure, the most interdisciplinary classes, excellent and supportive programming, spirited student life, endless ways to engage, and even as I appreciate every moment that I’m here, I just can’t force feelings of excitement.
In reality, I’m learning that I can’t force myself to feel any kind of way, period. No matter how excited, settled, and comfortable I should feel, I’ve long learned that unlike our expectations, feelings are something we cannot really control. They’re karma-karma-karma-karma-karma chameleons – they come and go, they come and gooooo. They change with the wind. But we can control our reactions and responses to our feelings. And that’s what matters. So the faster you accept and acknowledge feelings for what they are (what I’m trying to do now), the better equipped you are to work through them.
View at IAH. Love being in transit but
airports = ew.
In reality, I can’t shake this uneasy feeling of being not quite at home here yet. It’s the same out-of-place uneasiness I always feel in unfamiliar hotel rooms, airports and new places. After establishing a somewhat-solid routine in Trancos (my freshman dorm), I’m thrown into this completely different setting and I’ve gotta find a new routine that works for me. This takes time – time that I don’t have because we’re already 3 weeks in and I’m just going with the motions, mentally sprinting to keep up with this crazy quarter-system pace, with no real routine in place.
In reality, all these constant changes are throwing me the heck off – I’m just ready to settle into my life, and college isn’t giving me the chance to do that. But I’d just as soon admit that it’s these changes that are going to make me grow and learn the most, and I know I’ll finish college a much better, stronger person than I was.

In reality, I’m constantly shifting between having it together and completely falling apart. I’ve managed to be in bed by 11PM one night in order to wake up early the next morning to work (a system that works really well, what the heck!). But two days later, I’ve also managed to stay up until 3AM, swamped with work and little motivation, and wallowing in what a rough night it had become. I go from one extreme to the next in more ways than one – like Rihanna so eloquently sang: it’s 0 to 60 in 3.5. For instance, tonight started off so well – we had the first Calypso practice with our new

Connor and the BBZ (new members)!

members which was great, so great. The excitement was tangible, and I remembered how heartwarming and beautiful it is to share music, especially the steelpan, with others. I left there on a high, and a few hours later, sitting in front of my laptop contemplating things, I hit another low which prompted me to write this post. All in a day’s work, ya?

In reality, I’m barely keeping up with my schoolwork, no matter how many plans I make to stay on top of it. Everyday I pledge to catch up on my HumBio reading, and everydaytime simply runs out. At this point I don’t know where to draw the line between idealistic and delusional because there are just not enough hours in the day, and time is running away from me, and I don’t know if I should settle for this constant hustling to keep up or if I’m actually too busy and need to  do some serious intervention on my schedule.
In reality, these constant ups and downs affect my health and sometimes I feel so out of control. I binge and stress eat. I stay up late without cause. I’m constantly sleep-deprived and occasionally too exhausted to stick to my commitments. My immune system went down a bit and I’m fighting a cold of some sort right now. I’m breaking out every single week and feel the urge to hide my face in public because it’s a constant reminder of the ongoing distresses I feel.

In reality, I miss my room back home and having my own space. Throwing it back to high school, I was perfectly content with seeing my friends in class, and  liming outside of school a few times per quarter. I had a great routine of going to classes, then training, then returning home to work at night in the comfort of my own home, and my own space, resting assured that I could 100% be myself because I was around the people who knew me best and accepted me for all my flaws, grumpy moods and shortcomings (shoutout to my family back home!).

S/o to my family for putting up with me <3

But guess what? College is not high school (surprise, surprise)! From the living situation (having a roommate + living in a dorm + being surrounded by other students 24/7) to classes (I swear every class requires collaboration and sometimes I’m just not down), there is no way to escape the fact that college is a social experience as much as an academic one. Something, as an introvert, I’m still learning to navigate. I’m caught between “I wanna meet new people!” and “No new friends, no no new”, wondering how much effort to put into expanding my circle or instead keeping it small and strengthening current relationships.

In reality, although I don’t feel 100% at home here, I don’t know if I’d rather be back in Trinidad, either. Because despite everything, Stanford is my life’s default state now. Being a student is my occupation. I’m here for my education and home (Trinidad) just doesn’t mean the same thing anymore – although it is where my heart is because it’s where my family is, it’s no longer my default place, but more of a temporary resting spot between academic years. So if here isn’t home, and home isn’t home, where is? (An idea I’ve been grappling with since my first visit back home from school for Christmas Break last year).

 

Pic of me freshman year feeling at home at Stanford, yea?
A picture may speak a thousand words, but it may not always
tell the truth.
In reality, I constantly contradict myself because although I socially feel the need for more space, I’m also discovering that it is the people around me who make me feel like I belong the most. It is going to Calypso practice and just feeling completely at ease with the instrument and with my band-mates. It is going on a CSA retreat and feeling like I can finally be myself because I could relate to everyone on a cultural level. It is going to the 10PM mass and sharing my faith in solidarity with others. It is having a roommate that smiles when I walk into the room and reminds me to not be too hard on myself because just being here at college is an accomplishment (direct quote from the Debz! Simple but true!). It is knowing that there are friends I can call, text or meet up with if I ever need to talk.
Trini-love!
In reality, these contradictions make me feel like a phony, although I know I’m anything but. I think that to be without contradictions, is to lack humanity, because nobody is perfect, and we all contradict ourselves in one way or the other. But that’s a-okay because perfect internal harmony is hard to come by. Maybe that’s why this quote struck me when I first heard it:

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” – Gandhi

Because I strive for that kind of harmony and happiness, but never quite reach it because I can’t really shake these contradictions.
I think the biggest truth of all comes to me now that I’ve let this all out: I’m struggling here, and that’s okay. It’s all part of the experience. Yes, I aim to have a routine, to go to sleep early and eat well and exercise, but it’s okay if that doesn’t always work out. I keep on trying, and that’s important. Yes, I never actuallymade it to my bed tonight (just knocked out on the couch for a couple hours) and it’s now almost 6am, but it’s okaybecause I’m going to do my Spanish homework and prepare for classes tomorrow (today) so that I can start afresh.

 

Here is something I’ve told myself a million times in the past, but I’m only now starting to believe it:

It’s okay to not be okay.

This note to myself from freshman year remains on
my laptop’s dashboard today!

Aṣọ Dára: Expressing Culture through Fashion

By: Tosin Sonuyi

Aṣọ Dára” originates from the Yoruba language and translates roughly to “good clothes”

In Aṣọ Dára know that you are part of a collective consciousness to push the culture forward in spreading love and community.”

It’s hard to say exactly what it was that led me and my 4 older siblings to start Aṣọ Dára. I know that given what the 5 of us do professionally, if you would have asked me last year I would have guessed that we would have started some health technology company since we work in medicine, software, and engineering. Yet the venture that actually made the most sense for us happens to be in fashion. I think that one of the biggest things that drove us to towards this was the fact that our working lives were so far apart and separate that we thought it would be really fun and interesting to do something professionally together for the first time ever.

We didn’t know exactly what each person would do given our backgrounds but somehow, a couple months into it we have each been able to contribute our individual talents towards our collective success and it’s personally been inspiring to see. On a more personal note about myself individually; I’m the youngest of my siblings and it’s a really welcome change for me to be able to contribute equally in an endeavor with people that I’ve spent pretty much my whole life looking to for advice and guidance.

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Something that I love about being a business owner is that we get to make all of the decisions. It’s the difference between having a seat at the table and creating your own table. When the table is yours not only do you have input into decisions but you also choose what decisions there are to be made. I think one of the most telling examples of this in Aṣọ Dára to date, was our decision to sponsor african ancestry dna tests. To make a long story short, we had lots of discussions about how to present the new program, what type of wording to include, which company would provide the DNA tests, what extra information should we provide about DNA testing, etc. The discussions were lengthy and initially full of nuanced and layered back and forths. But, at the end of the day it felt good to be in a position to not only make the final decisions, but also to have something like an African ancestry test up for discussion in the first place. To me, it’s decisions like these that make having and supporting black-owned businesses important.

asodara

“Aṣọ Dára bears responsibility in continuing to connect the dots to show the unmistakable parallels between the style and grace of their sisters in Atlanta to that of their sisters in Eko. To show the parallel between the hustle of entrepreneurs in Detroit and the meticulous daily grind of people in Johannesburg. In bridging the gap, they contribute to the movement of self-love and self-determination as all strive towards becoming the best version of themselves.

Follow Aṣọ Dára on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and check out their website.

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Get it on Google Play

Blasian Narratives: Director’s Note

Director: OmnessenmO

DIRECTOR’S NOTE

For what it’s worth, race continues to be a sensitive and volatile topic, and in many cases, results in fatal consequences. Yet, very few make the connection that racial literacy is linked to self-awareness and emotional intelligence. In addition, as much as race is a social construct, it is also a code. This code consciously and subliminally constructs a major part of our identity, and begs the questions: How do we see ourselves? And how do others perceive us? Therefore, how does this affects how we live, in relations to how they treat us? Ironically, racial awareness is often ridiculed and villainized as people attribute racial (identity) awakening to exacerbating social problems.

I see it differently.

In the age of the Internet, scrolling through careless comments easily posted on social media, it becomes clear that emotional and racial literacy is rarely upheld in school. As a result, artists and activists carry the burden of teaching values that should have been instilled from a young age, resisting a culture and society that does not value self-awareness. As I recognize that racial literacy is linked to emotional growth, therefore, I am passionate about creating works that help hone emotional maturity and accountability. I see racial works of art when done affirmatively, as invitations for personal self-reflections and opportunities for a collective healing. Thus, this project was created with this aspiration in mind.

I studied film and theatre because I understood the power of expressions and representations through performances, images, and symbols. As someone of an Asian American heritage (Cambodian American), I grew up seeing few representations of people who looked like me, and if there was one, it was usually negative. Yet, I’ve found that those who are well versed in racial literacy tend to be more grounded individuals. I see the correlations of healthy self-esteem in the Asian American students who studied their culture; this also holds true for Black students who understood their history. I have also seen how wiser my Native, Latinos, White, “mixed” and “Others” brothers and sisters become once they learn the truth about themselves. As such, this project became a creative outlet for individuals who are interested in exploring the racial and cultural aspect of who they are.

The visual medium of theatre, film/videos, and online media are some of the most powerful storytelling tools of our time. Therefore, combining all three was not an easy task considering the limited time and lack of budget available; I also had to wear many hats as a first-time director. Furthermore, as an outsider to the narratives of Blasian individuals, I wanted to be mindful in how I help others tell their stories without imposing too much of my influence. After all, I am not “Blasian.” However, I was able to use my outsider curiosity to my advantage by asking the right questions. To the best of my ability, I made sure to consult and receive feedback throughout the whole process from Blasians and non-Blasians alike. If someone were to make a narrative piece about people like me, I would only hope that they approach it with care, respect, thoughtfulness, and integrity. I hope that this project upheld these values.

This project has truly been an intensive labor of love. As this is my debut project, I feel blessed to work with many of my new and closest friends who are all spread out in the world–many who are sharing their gifts freely from their personal resources. I have learned a lot from the cast, crew, and audiences through this transformative experience that brought us all together, coast-to-coast. I am also fortunate to have met the individuals who offered a helping hand along the way, whether it was the kind encouragements from acquaintances or our friends of friends, who came in to help cook meals for us when we needed them. This project is also dedicated to them because we could not have arrived here without them.

If I’ve only learned one thing from the cast and crew, it is that we don’t have to live in a colorblind society when we can live in a colorful world.

I hope that the messages of unity in diversity come through. Through exploring our differences, I hope we can see and feel how similar we really are.

Yours truly,

OmnessenmO