For many students at the University of Saskatchewan, student groups and associations are integral to a sense of community belonging. In an effort to foster community, the African Students’ Association recently held elections for a new executive team.
On Nov. 18, the ASA elected a new executive, including a president, vice-president and secretary. The ASA’s aim is to provide a safe and helpful community for new students from Africa, as well as to form friendships with fellow students.
Simon Beresford, a fourth-year physiology and pharmacology student and out-going president of the ASA, speaks about how he and the 2016 executive members made the ASA what it is today.
“When we took over, there was no actually ratified organization as of then, so we started from scratch,” Beresford said. “An election was conducted in October last year, and the aim of that election was to be able to create an association that we could pass over to any other students that were interested.”
Although the ASA did exist before this, it was less focused on community and more focused on making money, according to Beresford. When the executive members took over last year, they had goals to transform the association.
“I came up with the idea, with some good friends of mine, to actually bring about the association with the aim of uniting the African community, giving them a voice and a form of advocacy for them because they have a need for that,” Beresford said.
Among unity and advocacy, the association is also centered on forming friendships and having fun, and they host several events, open to all students, throughout the year.
“Forming friendships among people and bringing avenues where people can sit together and discuss issues of interest within the African community, and also to encourage the multicultural society we’re seeing on campus, are some of our further aims,” Beresford said.
In the next year, Beresford hopes that the new executive members will continue to work towards advocacy and community and also expand the scope of what the ASA does for students.
“Every year we have people from Africa coming to the U of S. Some people are very lost and they don’t know anything at all,” Beresford said. “What we are trying to do is to get a list of how many African students are coming and figure out what we can do to assist them and what kind of help do they need.”
Beresford also hopes that the ASA will provide financial and academic help to African students who need it, by offering textbooks and study help beyond what the university provides.
“Some people may have problems in terms of taking a class that they may not really understand and they are not having the extra help. We are trying to set up an academic sector that can help students with stuff like that,” Beresford said.
The ASA has transformed throughout the last year, and Beresford spoke proudly about the work the association has done. He believes that the best thing they have accomplished this year is gaining the trust of African students on campus, which has allowed them to form such a strong community.
“What I think I’ve done that I am very proud of is gaining the trust of the people because in the past, no one within the African community trusted the ASA because all they wanted from the students was to have events and make money from them,” Beresford said. “Now the association is very different. We are able to gain people’s trust, and that is the greatest thing we have achieved.”
Beresford believes that the ASA is important because being a new student from Africa can be difficult and scary. Having a community for support, Beresford feels, is necessary for those students.
“We have people who are treated unfairly because of their skin colour and I believe if we have a voice and an advocate for those people, things like that would not be happening. For me, it is like giving a sense of protection in a very foreign land and also building a very strong community that can stand for us no matter what.”
Photo: Jeremy Britz / Photo Editor