The African Student Association is a student-run organization at IU that raises awareness about the cultural, economic, social, and political problems in Africa.
Mariame Sow, IU senior and African Student Association co-president, discussed ASA’s work on campus and what the organization has done for her personally.
The questions and answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.
IDS: What would you say is the purpose of ASA?
Sow: The purpose of ASA here at Indiana University is to really promote and cultivate various African cultures, to bring awareness to the issues all Black students face and to create a social environment where Black students can come and be themselves, whether they’re continental Africans or African-Americans.
IDS: How did you first hear about ASA and what made you want to join?
Sow: Growing up, I had family members who attended a Predominantly White Institution, and they were heavily involved in their ASA. So, when I got here my freshman year my cousin was on the executive committee and told me to come out and support. I came out to a few events here and there, but I didn’t get involved until my second semester of freshman year. I volunteered, joined the fashion show for the African night and attended the benefit dinner. I was like “Wow, this is it.”
IDS: What are the events ASA hosts that make students want to join?
Sow: One thing we always do that’s a tradition for ASA‘s around the country is African night in the spring.
Another thing we do at IU every year faithfully, except for the year we couldn’t do it because of the pandemic, was a benefit dinner. Watching it become bigger and bigger and elevate has been a journey and a place of privilege and honor to be like, “Wow I was a part of this when it was smaller and now it’s kind of like this big thing where people will come up to you and talk about how much fun they had.”
IDS: What would you say are some of the similarities between ASA and Black Student Union and how do you guys work together on campus?
Sow: ASA and BSU work together simultaneously. For example, One tradition our past presidents made is that we alternate our Thursday meetings and events. We do that to make sure Black students who are in both organizations can still attend both meetings.
The similarities we share are creating safe spaces for Black students on campus. To be a part of a minority group, specifically the 4% at a predominantly white Big Ten institution, is something that can be very stressful and overwhelming. So what we share is just prioritizing Black spaces and making sure that we’re putting out great events and prioritizing everyone’s mental health. Any spaces that can try to snub our voices.
IDS: What do you hope to see from ASA at IU in the future after you graduate?
Sow: Personally for ASA what I would like to see continued is us still being that safe space for all Black students. One thing my co-president, Feven Araya, and I talked about when we both got elected was to make sure all Black students — Afro-Latino, African American, Black European, and international students — could come to ASA and feel included. We know the incoming executive board we’re going to elect is going to protect that legacy.
IDS: What has ASA taught you?
Sow: ASA has taught me to take up as much space as possible. Don’t let anyone silence you. I definitely would say I’ve always been very outgoing, but it allowed me to be comfortable enough to be whoever I want to be no matter where I am or who I’m with.
It's funny because I feel like as a continental African and growing up as an African American you have to deal with code-switching and to be able to be all of that at ASA and be accepted and have that sense of belonging is something I will take with me.