Tilburg welcomes first African student association ASAT

Tilburg welcomes first African student association ASAT

What started as a Whatsapp group of over a hundred African students, culminated last September in the launch of Tilburg’s first cross-continental student association: the African Student Association Tilburg (ASAT). “We want to create a community for both African students and those who are interested in our cultures.”

Sehaam Abdule (l) and Miah Ké-Leigh (r) from ASAT. Foto: Jack Tummers

The evening ASAT was officially launched at Carpe Noctem was the first time president Sehaam Abdule (21) and marketing editor Miah Ké-Leigh (23) met in real life. Not only was it their first physical event of the year, it also turned out to be their last. Covid hit again. The Netherlands went into lockdown, which caused a major setback for the newborn African student association. All their ideas about events had to be postponed or translated into an online environment. In addition, half of the board left for their home countries, not making communication between them any easier.

Despite this shaky start, the board managed to keep the association afloat. The African Student Association Tilburg is now up and running. But where did the idea of establishing it come from in the first place?

Sehaam: “We started as a group of mutual friends who were all studying law together. Here the idea was born to establish a community for African students in Tilburg, so a group chat called ‘Afrika-UVT’ was created. Somewhere in the summer of 2019, some in this group suggested to formalize the community into an association. From this point, the actual process took off and we began drafting the statutes and brainstorming about things like our mission and logo. After a long and hard process with a lot of Zoom sessions, we were happy to finally present ASAT last year.”

Miah: “One of the main motives for setting up ASAT was the lack of representation of (African) students of color in student boards. This is not necessarily due to unwillingness, but rather the fact that students of color simply do not run for such positions. We wanted to change that by having exclusively African students – especially women – fill all our board positions. From here, we also want to correct the way Africa has been portrayed by the Western media. Africa is so much more than a starving child with a fly flying around it.”

Community and integration

Sehaam: “ASAT has three important values. The first one is community building: we want to create a place where students of African heritage as well as students who are interested in African cultures can meet and come together. We always knew there were African students on this campus, but we never knew how to reach each other. By setting up ASAT this has become much easier.”

Miah: “ASAT is basically for anyone open to learning about African cultures. There are a number of people with a non-African nationality, such as Romanian, Irish or Dutch, who have decided to join. This is a two-way street: they support us in creating a space for African cultures and they broaden their horizon by coming into contact with cultures they are not familiar with.”

“The problem is that we are one continent but that people see us as one country”

Sehaam: “Besides creating a community we want to help our members integrate well into Dutch society. Together with our alumni, we share tips and tricks on how to optimize their professional position on the labor market.”

Miah: “We also offer internship opportunities by collaborating with other (African) organizations. Recently, we even had a Zoom session with recruitment officers from Adidas and Nike. Next to that, we encourage people to learn the Dutch language, which is a key asset if you would like to stay and work here in the near future.”

Diversity

Sehaam: “With ASAT we want to show how culturally diverse Africa is as a continent. There is a serious misunderstanding that Africa is all the same and that all African countries are alike. I am from Somalia, which is located in the east, and Miah is from South Africa, which forms the southern tip of the continent. Our countries are so far apart and therefore have very different cultures.”

Miah: “The problem is that we are one continent but that people see us as one country. This is partly our own fault because we have a tendency to present ourselves to the world as a unity, which is called Pan-Africanism. While I believe this is a good thing because it creates a sense of pride and togetherness among Africans, it distracts attention from the internal diversity of the continent.”

Sehaam: “Pan-Africanism is useful when we have to defend ourselves against all the misconceptions about Africa or when others approach us in a negative way because we’re from Africa. In such a case, we need to unite in order to explain our differentiations, like we do with ASAT.”

Miah: “The sense of unity is much more present amongst Africans abroad than on the continent itself, where countries stand more by themselves. In the end, I identify more as a South African than as an African, just as Sehaam is more Somali than African. I believe we should explicitly celebrate our cultures in their own uniqueness. That is also why I joined ASAT, to become more integrated with African cultures other than my own.”

Future plans

Miah: “If Covid allows, next year will be the first official year of ASAT, which means interacting with people on campus and organizing physical events for anyone interested. I expect this to be quite a challenge, especially since many of our active members left for other cities to find work.”

Sehaam: “ASAT to me is still a baby. It is young and needs to grow. To grow, we first need to establish a solid organization we can stand upon. We have to make a name for ourselves by letting students know we are here. That is why we want to collaborate with companies and other student organizations.”

Miah: “So far, this has proven to be difficult since many associations only want to talk to us about race. We regularly get requests to represent people of color on student panels, which is fine, but not if we feel the sole reason to connect with us is the color of our skin. Then we do not want to be involved. We have so much more to share in terms of music, literature, language, fashion, food and other cultural experiences. That is what we want ASAT to be known for.”

For those interested, here you can find ASAT’s website and Instagram

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