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The Dartmouth
March 4, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Students talk about adjusting to America

Students discussed the experiences students of African or Caribbean origin face when first moving to the United States and integrating themselves in a panel discussion Friday night at the International House.

Rodrego Byerly '98, who moderated the discussion with about 20 students, said, "It has been my experience that black students who haven't grown up in the United States have different cultures and different traditions."

The three student panelists, Isha Archer '97, Nana Ashong '99, and Dinsie Williams '97 discussed the prevalence of stereotypical images in American society.

International Office Director Guilan Wang said one reason why stereotypical images persist is that American people have been raised to make assumptions.

Panelists said many Americans think of Africa as being one country rather than a continent with separate countries and different people.

Ashong, who was born in Ghana and lived part of her life in the Middle East, said most people don't view Africa in the same context they view Europe or Asia.

Most people fail to recognize the vastly different cultures and traditions that exist within in the continent, she said.

Even schools like Dartmouth or Harvard make this same generalization by offering courses like "Women in Africa," said Risana Zitha '99, a student who attended the discussion.

"If you were to study [this topic], you would first have to ask 'Which women in Africa?'," Zitha said.

"Even within the same tribe there are so many differences," he said.

Ashong said she blames the media in part for this problem.

"When you see images of Africa on television, you see people starving or anthropologists looking at monkeys. You don't have direct access to the big picture," she said.

Williams, a panelist from Sierra Leone, said although black students at Dartmouth share a common racial bond, the familial and cultural history that foreign students from Africa or Caribbean origin claim are very different from black students who have grown up in the United States.

Archer, who is from Trinidad and Tobago, said the College's African and Caribbean Student's Organization was formed six years ago to specifically address the needs of students with African and Caribbean origins.

"Being black is not enough" to form just one organization, Archer said.

There were too many differences-- "musically, politically, culturally" -- that individuality would be lost within an umbrella organization, she said.

Ashong said her experiences are unlike most people she meets.

"So for me, there is no organization that really addresses that," she said.

"I can go to AfriCaSo and talk about common history, but I can also go to AAm [Afro-American Society] and discuss common political issues affecting me," she said. "I value the fact that I have a broader perspective."

Another issue raised in the discussion was the manner in which the term "African-American" is used in relation to describing the different black communities in America.

Byerly said terms such as "Mexican-American" or "Chinese-American" were designed to identify people by their specific ethnic background.

"Those terms aren't used in a parallel manner to the black community. Only those who recently came here from Africa would be the true African-American," said Byerly. "I would just be called a black person."

The term "African-American" is employed as a "clean-up" term that evolved from previously used terms such as Negro and black, Ashong said.

Byerly encouraged students at the end of the discussion to "use and access the resources we have at our disposal to educate ourselves and others about the differences in race and culture."

The discussion was part of this term's series focusing on Africa called "Africa in the Crossroads."