African Student Association overcomes challenges, lifts voices of minority students

The African Student Association at Baylor University strives to connect students of all backgrounds with their cultures. Photo courtesy of Brooklyn Joseph

By Savannah Hawkins | Guest Contributor

A 20-year-old organization at Baylor, the African Student Association aims to connect students of all races with their cultures, working to overcome the challenges its minority members face on campus and beyond.

Lanham, Md., senior and African Student Association president Marie Moukoury said the organization strives to lift the voices of African students and provide a safe space for expressing individual cultural identities.

“Everything you would need to have a functioning, fulfilling life, in general, is supported by the organization,” Moukoury said.

Moukoury said the organization hosts charity events, monthly volunteering opportunities and religious gatherings. Recently, it also held a charity auction in support of the Water Project and the Nelson Mandela Foundation to raise awareness for clean water and human rights in Africa.

Baylor senior and African Student Association vice president Emily Omakpokpose said the organization is a space open to all.

“We love everyone to come in, no matter your race, color, sexuality, whatever background you come from,” Omakpokpose said. “We want everyone to come into our spaces.”

Plano freshman Marissa Essenburg said this environment and learning opportunity is beneficial not only for minority students but for all students.

“You get to be immersed and be involved in who other people are,” Essenburg said. “In college, you’re fully thrown into this whole different world.”

The African Student Association’s place on campus has not been without its challenges, though. Moukoury said the pandemic left leadership in disarray and took a toll on members.

“There’s not as much of that community aspect here like there was before,” Moukoury said. “I would definitely like to see improvement on that front.”

According to Moukoury, the African Student Association has also sought the help of some faculty members but was left with little guidance from its peers and the administration.

Omakpokpose said the inclusion of minority students is a “weak area” for Baylor.

“Baylor, as an organization, doesn’t do the best job at including their students, racially different students,” Omakpokpose said.

Omakpokpose said that to achieve greater diversity and inclusion, change has to begin at the top. She said administration and staff must make an effort to involve themselves more deeply in the lives of minority students, and that a good place to start is by getting involved in the African Student Association.

“You’re not able to really understand people if you’re not in those spaces,” Omakpokpose said.

Regardless of these challenges, Omakpokpose said the African Student Association continues to move forward and that this is “just the beginning of the great things that are going to come.”

“ASA was a very welcoming space for me, and it is still welcoming for me now,” Omakpokpose said.

According to Moukoury, the future is “promising” for students who “love the mission of ASA and would be willing to do what they would need to do to perpetuate the growth of the organization.”