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.

 

casf-62

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!

Being a Black Women in Tech

By: Lindsey Redd (’17)

On July 5th, 2016 a police officer murdered Alton Sterling. This was the Tuesday of the fourth week of my software engineering internship in San Francisco. This was the first company I had ever worked for, and I did not know how these things went. How do companies handle tragedy? Do they reach out to their employees? Do they reach out to their customer base?

I walked into the office the following Wednesday with sadness in my bones. I was tired. I was slow. All I wanted to do was sit down and do my work. There was the normal pleasant buzz around the office, but it seemed that no one knew the name Alton Sterling. No one knew that there was a murder hanging over Black America.

That night I learned about the murder of Philando Castile, another Black man murdered by the police. Two days, two murders, two more Black lives lost. My reaction was not shock or disbelief. Unfortunately, all of this was so familiar. Still, my heart sunk even further as I watched our collective grieving on social media. My timelines were flooded with posts from people in Stanford’s Black community, allies, activists, and scholars questioning how many more lives lost would it take for the American people to understand that our “safety” and “justice” systems were built to kill and incarcerate Black people. How do we grieve together, but continue to experience joy? How do we make systemic change? How do we take care of ourselves? How do we continue to dream of a beautiful future for Black people globally? How do we move forward?

The next day at my internship, I was met with radio silence. A few of my White colleagues asked me how I was doing like they would any other day. It was clear that either they had no idea that two Black men were murdered by police in the last two days, they had no idea of the inner turmoil that I was experiencing because of it, or they had an idea about both of those things, but had no idea how to address it with me. I told them I was fine, also having no idea how to casually tell a well-meaning White person with the brightest smile on their face that White supremacy was killing me and people like me.

That day I sat at my desk, fighting back tears as I texted my friend group of Black engineers also interning in the Bay about feeling invisible at work and wanting to go numb. I texted some of my friends who were spread out all over the country and the world about how they were doing, and how their work places were responding to the tragedies. Most said not well to both. The silence continued throughout the day until my manager emailed her team acknowledging that America is in pain and that this might effect our productivity at work. She offered her time to talk if anyone needed it. The email was short and simple, but it almost made me cry. Finally, someone at work could see me, even if only a little. No work got done that day.

The next week was filled with conversations with my aforementioned group of friends about Black lives, tech, and how we positioned our own Blackness in tech. We would all sit in the living room of my tiny San Francisco apartment discussing how some tech companies were responding both publicly and internally. Some responses were okay, some were terrible (I could write extensively on what I thought of each response), but in the end each was underwhelming. However, disappointment was not my initial response. This was the first time that I had been aware of any tech companies making public statements condemning the attack on Black lives. At first this was really exciting. “They can see us,” I’d think to myself. We yelled loud enough. We fought hard enough. They finally realized how important we are to their success, so they are speaking up for us. This is a very low bar. After walking into my office, one that prided itself on its commitment to community and diversity, and seeing only myself and one other intern as the only Black women software engineers in the entire place (yes, you read that right), I began to understand what a low bar this was.

I saw that many of these companies’ public statements about Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were as hollow as their commitments to internal diversity and inclusion. What does it mean when a CEO’s public statement has to be written by its grieving Black employee resource group? What does it mean when Facebook displays a massive Black Lives Matter banner on its campus, but simultaneously releases a statement saying they can’t hire Black engineers because we simply aren’t there (a lie btw)? What does it mean when a tech company “commits” to “diversity,” but only has a small handful of Black and Latinx engineers? What does it mean when I walk into work after two tragic murders of Black men and feel completely invisible? To me this means that the highest priority for the tech company is public image, not tangible improvements for the lives of the people of color who use and make their product.

With all of that said, one of the biggest challenges of my summer as Black woman software engineer was reconciling that I am dedicated to and passionate about an industry that ultimately sees me as a prop for good publicity. That is a very painful realization.

However, my understanding of the tech industry’s wholesome disregard of Black life and death did not drive me out of tech industry. In fact, I am more motivated and inspired to stay than I ever was before. In the face of tragedy, fear, widespread silence, microagressions, macroagressions, and objectification, I watched as me, my friends, and truly incredible Black and Latinx engineers not only got our work done, but also shook up the tech industry with our resilience and power. I saw engineers of color demand recognition, empathy, and the right to be human at work. They inspired me to speak up at my own company, and I am seeing the positive impact that my voice, my Black woman engineering intern voice, is having on an entire company.

I have some parting words.

Tech industry, do better. Black people are not your props. We are not numbers. We are people. We are intelligent, hardworking, and capable. We not only deserve to be here, but we need to be here. You will fail miserably without us.

Fellow Black people in or entering tech, you are brave, beautiful, and inspiring. I absolutely would not have made it this far without you. Thank you for doing the unpaid work of educating your peers and your companies about what it means to be Black in America.

Black people, thank you for sustaining us Black folks in tech. So many of us are doing this work for you. We know that this industry as a whole does not see you, but we do.

Put Some Respek On Your Values | 8 life tips to help build your greatness

21 feels good. There’s something great about a birthday — that feeling of having a fresh start and the opportunity to grow. I’m blessed to have had tons of great experiences and introspective moments growing up, many of which I reflect on everyday. I believe that sharing the lessons we learn individually helps us collectively reach our best glo. So, I wanted to share a few of mine that have greatly shaped the person I am today.

1. Live in your truth. Be genuine and authentic.

Three years ago I was sitting in the lobby of McDonald’s headquarters. I had an interview for one of their scholarship programs in 10 minutes — a scholarship that could make attending college out-of-state a reality. It was a big deal, and I was nervous as hell. I’m talking about armpits sweating profusely, hands getting clammy, “At least I have my health if this doesn’t work out… right, God?” nervous.

The receptionist called my name and I walked into a meeting room where I sat across from a group of 4 play-no-games working adults. The first 5 minutes were cool. Then, they hit me with the question:

So, Benjamin, we know a lot about you already, but what do you know about us? Why do you think you’d fit here?

Wait, what?! What do I know about YOU? Wow…I goofed…I didn’t do my research, were my initial thoughts. Surprised and at a loss for words, I stalled and took the longest, most dramatic sip of water from my cup to buy time. (Think sloth scene from Zootopia).

And then I thought, I’ve already lost, so what point is there in lying? They’ll see right through it. I didn’t do my research like I should’ve…

So I took a deep breath and said:

“I honestly have no idea. I wish I had done more research, but I would really love to learn more about your program.”

They looked at each other and smiled. A few weeks later I received the scholarship. The panel expressed that I was one of the few candidates who honestly admitted to not knowing much about their program. Other candidates came in and tried to pull stuff out of their ass, and they knew it right away.

Real recognizes real, people. From then on, I never doubted the benefits of practicing authenticity.

I encourage you to ask yourself: are you living as authentically as you want to? If not, let’s figure out why. What are your values? Can you say them aloud right now?

A friend of mine that I greatly respect told me to write down my values to help me stick to them, and so far, it’s worked. When you know your values by heart, you can easily make decisions that align with or go against them. So, if a decision goes against any of your core values…don’t do it. It’s that simple.

When you don’t know your values, there will be times you’ll stand for things that kinda feel right. But kinda you isn’t 100% you. So know what you stand for, and live and hold yourself accountable to those values*

*Of course, we’re humans and life happens, so you don’t have to be awkward and robotic with this, OK? There’s levels to this. More complex situations prompt more complex analysis. Let your values serve as a starting point into living an authentic life; this list of 7–8 words doesn’t have to be your life’s bible. And keep in mind there are values you probably forgot to list.

2.Take a break.

A few months ago I was working through some code during the wee hours of the morning and things were simply not working for me. I had tried EVERYTHING I knew, and for some reason a new widget I was creating was not showing up on this website. My girlfriend was asleep at the time, knocked out with a literal smile on her face, hands clasped together in prayer form. Pause, and just think about how that must feel: You’ve been stressed as hell, banging your head against the wall, trying to work through the exact same thing for 4 hours, and your partner is in bed like:

I felt helpless, and I decided to give up and sleep.

When I woke up I opened my computer and realized: I didn’t include the downloaded software library in my project. WHAT!! Of course it wouldn’t work! I took all the steps necessary for this thing to work, except actually including the software in my project. My code had nothing to run off of, essentially. It’s like driving up to a gas station, putting $20 on your tank, opening up your lid, and then sitting in the driver’s seat expecting gas to magically get into your tank. With my rested set of eyes, this mistake was clear as day. Sometimes taking a break is the most productive thing you can do.

EXTENDING THIS: Working hard as hell shouldn’t be your sole goal. If so, that’s a pretty boring life. Hard work is definitely a vehicle to help you achieve your dreams, but don’t conflate hard work with success. Again, if you know what you value, you’ll know if what you’re doing is working towards your vision. Taking a breather shouldn’t distract from the vision.

3. You know that thing you’ve been thinking about doing? Yeah…that THING? You know what it is…do it. It’ll probably be great. If it isn’t? Well you tried, and that’s better than not trying.

I had an app idea my junior year of high school that I thought could (sort of) change the world. Yet, I never pursued it because I didn’t know where to begin, and I wasn’t confident enough to explore the unknown. I was too fearful. Now, four students at the University of Michigan are doing that exact idea I had 5 years ago. I couldn’t be happier for them, but sometimes you have to listen to your gut. I’m working on a side project right now, and, oh boy, I’m not letting this one get away.

Don’t let someone live YOUR dream. At first, your great idea is going to be doubted because we live in a doubtful society. But, push through and believe in yourself. Again, real recognizes real.

4. Getting feedback usually means someone cares about you.

Hey, tough love is still love. Of course, gauge others’ advice using your moral template, but feedback/constructive criticism usually means someone is taking time to help you be a better version of yourself. Even if it’s bad advice hear them out and appreciate them for trying. If there are people intentionally trying to steer you in the wrong direction, though, you know what to do…

5. Peer pressure is goofy. Follow your gut.

If you respect yourself, you won’t succumb to peer pressure most of the time. And those pressuring you will respect you (and maybe even themselves) more. However, peer pressure is really hard to overcome sometimes. So don’t beat yourself up if you can’t overcome it your first go-round.

6. Not everyone has to be your friend. That’s OK.

Not everybody has to like you. Even when you’ve done nothing wrong people will dislike you. And, on the flip side, in moments where you actually mess up you come to realize some people were waiting for that exactmoment all along. These are hard realizations to have.

I always thought I was a pretty likable guy, but, damn…wait. Who’d you say was talking…? Not them. Really? You sure?

It’s hard. Identify the frenemies. Be OK knowing that not everyone will appreciate you living in your truth, but if it’s your truth, then what do they matter? As long as you’re not hurting others by your actions, it’s better to live how you want to than surround yourself with people that make you act unlike yourself.

7. Sankofa.

8. You’re responsible for your life. No excuses.

It’s easy to explain away why something isn’t, or why you haven’t yet, or why you’ll never. But it’s probably just an excuse. Another human may listen, but that’s out of respect for you. An excuse is your way of shifting responsibility and blame, and living in the comfort that comes from staying the same — that’s goofy. Take ownership, because you own your life. Really and truly. Own your failures — that’s GREAT. Failures are moments of learning.


Photo by Quinnton Harris

Benjamin Williams is a junior at Stanford University majoring in Computer Science with a minor in African and African-American studies.

For more information, check out his LinkedIn profile, follow him on Twitter: @beninyohouse and Instagram: @ben_willyums, or visit his website,www.benjaminww.com