African and Caribbean Student Association

Article by Madison Lands
Photos by Joel Wintermantle

This year, the African and Caribbean Student Association celebrated their tenth anniversary and highlighted the successes of the past decade with their annual cultural show, “Diaspora.” 

The group has evolved alongside other prominent cultural organizations on campus, using the time to figure out how to enrich the campus and celebrate Afro-Caribbean cultures’ food, dancing, music and dialogue. However, this vision has not always been clear. In fact, ACSA went on hiatus in 2011 in order to reorganize, but by 2013, they were back. 

Met with the challenge of low visibility on campus upon returning, ACSA was more determined than ever to bring the vibrant cultures of Afro-Caribbean countries to Chicago, which meant appealing to students not of Afro-Caribbean descent.

“We thought of that in terms of the intersection of different cultures, because that is something that a lot of students identify with, whatever their background might be,” says Ben Lusamba, co-president of ACSA.

They started teaming up with other multicultural student organizations like the Organization of Black Students, the Office of Multicultural Affairs, and Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA) to plan study breaks, movie nights and co-sponsored talks. They participated in the international food fair, the African Union Conference, and had meet and greets. All the while, they planned the return of the spring cultural show.

The ACSA cultural show traditionally has music, dancing, fashion, and, most importantly, food. Planning is a six month process that includes recruiting outside acts, hosting model calls, and launching advertising campaigns across social media and the radio.

“It’s always a mix of culture, fun and something that is ‘Life of the Mind’ as well. We are UChicago!”
— Ben Lusamba

Now that they have a stronger brand on campus, ACSA has evolved to celebrate the unique legacies of African and Caribbean populations by forging relationships between these communities within the College, and by sponsoring cultural and political programming that engages the greater UChicago community. This new focus was reflected in the theme of the 2015 show, “Diaspora,” which took place on April 18 and was attended by more than 320 people from the community, including students from Northwestern University, Loyola University Chicago, University of Illinois at Chicago and Depaul University.

Even as ACSA celebrates many cultures and reaches out to the greater city, they maintain a distinctly UChicago approach to their events. Whether it is a professor speaking at a movie night or their future plans to host career advancement events specific to Afro-Caribbean interests, the aim of the RSO is to share more with the campus than just the tangible parts of a culture. 

“We can do culture shows and we can bring in vendors of the food for those countries, but also making the campus aware of what’s going on there is very important” said Jamilla Anderson, the Center for Leadership and Involvement advisor for ACSA, about efforts to educate the campus on Afro-Caribbean cultures. 

The life of the may mind drive ACSA events, but the abundance of food and reggae music are just as important. In fact, that was the conclusion of this year’s cultural show. After three hours of Afro-Caribbean food, comedy, a fashion show, and music and dance performances, , I-House was ready to close down for the night but the audience was not ready to stop dancing.

“It’s always a mix of culture, fun and something that is ‘Life of the Mind’ as well,” Ben says. “We are UChicago!”