WU’s ‘Africa Initiative’ sets goals for upcoming year, discusses progress

Noah Slaughter | Staff Reporter

Washington University’s Africa Initiative speakers shared their goals going forward and discussed the progress made since its inception a year ago in its first meeting April 23.

The event consisted of comments by University administrators followed by a panel with three University professors who conduct research in Africa, who then answered questions from the audience.

At the event, Chancellor Mark Wrighton said the Africa Initiative came out of the University’s desire to “more deeply engage in Africa,” where the University has relatively few ties compared to other areas of the world.

As part of the initiative, the University will create and develop partnerships and projects with Africa, such as recruiting more students from African countries and providing research opportunities there for Washington University students and faculty.

“A bi-directional, truly collaborative partnership has us being influenced here, as our students are enriching and expanding their worldview, and students [who] travel to us to really enrich what we do at this campus and in St. Louis,” Dean of the Brown School Mary McKay said. “I’m excited about the emphasis in this launch on partnerships, on deep collaboration and real respect for new initiatives that will benefit many.”

According to Assistant Vice Chancellor for International Affairs Benjamin Ola Akande, the initiative has three main areas of focus: supporting faculty and students, establishing formalized institutional relationships in Africa and increasing student recruitment from African countries. Moving forward, the initiative will also focus on health and human development in Africa.

Akande mentioned a faculty survey showing that there are currently 128 University faculty members engaged with work in Africa, spread out over 36 countries. An additional 105 faculty members responded saying they were interested in engaging with Africa.

Akande said the issue is that, right now, faculty and student engagement with Africa is very individualized, and there is little collaboration, communication or institutional strategy at the University for working with the continent, something he believes the Africa Initiative will help solve.

“One of the things that I have come to appreciate and understand about Washington University is the quickness to which they solve the magnitudes of problems, that this institution has a sense of constructive impatience about looking at challenges and finding ways to resolve those challenges,” Akande said. “I rest assured that, moving forward, the challenges that we face at Washington University are going to be turned into opportunities.”

The three panelists were Brown School Professor Fred Ssewamala, Assistant Professor of Medicine George Kyei and Assistant Professor of Anthropology Krista Milich. They detailed their work in Africa and the impact they have seen from that work.

Several other University faculty members spoke at the event, including Vice Chancellor for International Affairs Kurt Dirks, Director of the Institute for Public Health Bill Powderly and Chancellor Mark Wrighton.

“I think that we have the basis of a major contribution to building relationships that are going to strengthen Washington University but also bring important benefits to the people who live in Africa,” Wrighton said.

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