Students celebrate culture, tradition at annual African Night
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Students celebrate culture, tradition at annual African Night

African Student Association President Mubarik Musa believes the University of South Dakota is working to be a more culturally-inclusive community, but said it isn’t quite where it should be yet.

“It’s evident that the university is actually trying in retaining a very diverse student population,” Musa, a native Ethiopian, said.  “Are we there yet? … Probably we’re not there yet. But the university is trying, and I think it deserves recognition in its attempt to diversify the student population.”

A step toward more diversity on campus came in the form of an African Night celebration March 29. USD President James Abbott spoke at the celebration, which was hosted by the African Student Association.

Sunday night’s celebration featured African cuisines, music, dances, presentations and fashion. First-year Paul Ugwuoke said the celebration allows Africans to be themselves.

“The reason why we’re celebrating African Night is for us to celebrate our culture, for us to celebrate our norms and our traditions and for us to celebrate continuity and unity,” he said.

Ugwuoke, a Nigerian native, gave a presentation titled “Africa Rising.”

“We believe that we can make a very good step towards rising, and that’s why we’re celebrating Africa,” Ugwuoke said.

First-year student Mohamed Soliman, a native of Sudan, wrote and performed poetry and danced for African Night.

Soliman, who is shy, sees poetry as a way to express himself without having to directly talk to people.

“I’ve always been kind of shy, especially in my family and in my classes,” he said. “My teacher introduced me to writing a poem.”

Musa said the planning for the night began last fall, but kicked into top gear after winter break.

“We started planning in November, and once we came back to the school from winter break, we started to go in full mode,” Musa said. “I had more than 60 people involved in this. All the members, everybody had an assigned role.”

Musa said the African Student Association worked more on the event this year than they have in the past.

“The result and the turnout suggested that we had put in more than the usual work that we have done in the past,” Musa said.

Musa said the African Student Association allows the university to expand its diversity presence.

“We offer the university a chance to move away from the status quo and offer them something different and unique that has a cultural taste,” he said. “We invite all USD students to come join us.”

Musa said the African Student Association represents a culture that most USD students might not usually be familiar with.

“We do offer very distinct taste of cultural elements in our attempt to represent Africa as a whole,” he said.

Ugwuoke said the main purpose of the African Student Association is to encourage academic success. Access to education will allow students from Africa to return to the continent with new ideas for social change, he said.

“Africa, as a continent, orders for us to be able to acquire as much knowledge as we can and to come back to the continent of Africa to be able to utilize all the knowledge we have gathered all around the world,” Ugwuoke said. “We can build a collaboration of ideas in different circles of those who have learned in helping Africa to write, therefore, encouraging development in the continent.”

(Photo: USD students perform an African dance at the African Student Association’s African Night. The theme of this year’s celebration was “Africa Rising!” Phillip Millar / The Volante)