Students criticize loss of community elements at Center for African Studies

Nov. 9, 2023, 1:39 a.m.

Students expressed concerns over the loss of the Center for African Studies (CAS) as a community center amid a shift to a more academic space. The transition, which is happening ahead of the departmentalization of African and African American Studies in January, follows changes in center policies that limit student use of the center.

CAS, located in Encina Commons, became a center of community and intellectual life for those who cared about issues on the African continent. Since its founding in 1969, CAS expanded to include oversight of African language instruction, faculty-undergraduate research initiatives and classes such as AFRICAST 195: “Shifting Frames,” a dialogue-based course on important issues happening on the continent.  

“For many African students — international or part of the diaspora — CAS became a space where they could find refuge,” said Darryl Thompson ’23, a current coterminal student in management science and engineering, and an international student from Ghana who previously served on Stanford African Students Association (SASA) leadership. The Center served as the hub for community events held by African cultural organizations such as SASA.

Administrative decisions for the center are overseen by the CAS Faculty Advising Board, which consists of six faculty members. According to Joel Cabrita, the Susan Ford Dorsey Director of CAS and faculty advisory board director, the establishment of the Department of African and African American Studies in January 2024 provides “opportunities for academic collaboration” with CAS. 

“The Faculty Advisory Board of CAS has collectively decided that we will build upon and expand CAS’s historic mandate as a premier academic institution focused on African Studies,” Cabrita wrote.  

Changes to student use of the center include requiring an application to host community events in the center, a no music or food policy as a result of noise complaints, weekend closure and narrower opening hours. Currently, the Center’s hours are from Tuesday to Thursday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Students were told that these changes were temporary and would be changed back to the original noon to 6 p.m. hours soon. Cabrita did not elaborate on the reasons for changes to the music or hours. 

“Even though they didn’t necessarily say explicitly, ‘We are no longer welcoming your community,’ they’ve shown it by transforming [center policies],” said a student leading the group hoping to restore the community space at CAS, who requested anonymity due to fear of retaliation or negative effects in her ability to fulfill her role in leadership. The student said the center has played a vital role in her academic journey since her frosh year. 

Along with a group of 20 or so students, she reached out to the CAS Faculty Advisory Board in the spring of 2023 to meet about their concerns following changes to the center. According to multiple students, there have been two meetings between students and the advisory board thus far. 

The first meeting occurred last spring in the face of alleged budget cuts to the center during the University’s annual budget process, when students said there was worry about whether aspects of community building would be featured in the annual CAS budget. The Daily reached out for comment on the alleged budget cuts. In the most recent meeting this October, students said their concerns stemmed from a number of changes in the center’s policies following previous CAS associate director Laura Hubbard’s departure this summer.

Since the implementation of these changes, Jackline Wambua ’25, an international student from Kenya, said she’s seen less use of the center as a student space for studying and discussions.

“Most undergraduate classes happen during [the center’s current hours], meaning that I will have less access to this space,” Wambua said, adding that the hours appear to intentionally discourage students from using the space for community events. The Daily reached out for comment on the reason for the changes in hours. 

Students expressed confusion about the exact reason for these changes to the center. The student who requested anonymity said she was told during a meeting with the faculty advisory board that the changes were due to budget issues. CAS received budget cuts after being told that not enough of the center’s budget was spent on intellectual endeavors, the student was told. Other students were told that changes resulted from a push to model CAS off of other department centers, many of which do not allow food or music. The Daily has reached out to CAS for comment. 

When students expressed a need for a separate community center for African students, they said the CAS advisory board directed them to the Black Community Services Center, more commonly known as the Black House.  

“The University doesn’t understand that being an African is different from being an African American or Black American. The Black House was created for Black experiences. The African continent does not only have Black people,” the anonymous student said.

Students expressed that the advisory board’s choice to direct them to the Black House felt “reductionist” and “full of assumptions.” Several students said that African and Black American students have distinct backgrounds and identities. The Daily reached out to The University for comment. 

On Oct. 30, students said they met with a director at the Black House and were told that the process to request a new community center specifically for African students is no longer available as the committee responsible for overseeing the creation is no longer active. The Daily reached out to the Black House for comment. 

“CAS, at its core, is about academics and trying to promote and explore the intellectual world in an African context,” the student who asked to remain anonymous said. The center’s recent policy changes, the student said, are implying a definition of academia that is a “copy and paste of Western understanding of global studies.”

As a leader in the community, Thompson said he often asks himself what the end goal is. He said he’s spoken to students who want CAS to remain as a community space as it’s been in the past. Others want to see a different space that is tailored toward African students on campus, such as a community center or an office for African students. 

“The removal of CAS as a community space takes away a centralized resource that students had. We are being made to reorient ourselves and have to go to multiple places to get the things we need, especially in times that can be stressful,” Thompson said. 

He added, “Africanness really thrives in community. Not just thrives, but it is rooted in a deep sense of community. To separate those two things really feels forced in a way.”

A previous version of this article inaccurately described the location of CAS. The Daily regrets this error. 

This article has been updated to reflect CAS’s current opening hours.

Rani Chor is a Vol. 264 University News Desk Editor and previously the Vol. 263 Public Safety Beat Reporter. Outside of writing for The Daily, she enjoys singing to her pet duck. Contact her at rchor 'at'

Login or create an account