For Us, By Us

When we create space, we create community

I’m black, by the way.

Throughout my schooling, I had been a proud member of the underwhelming minority. Often burdened with the expectation of adhering to stereotypes in fear of losing my “blackness”, I believed university to be a Mecca devoid of classroom politics for those wanting to thrive within their own niche. First-year university O-Week afforded me the opportunity to indulge in my interests and discover new ones amidst the diverse and esoteric clubs and societies at hand. Whether you were an enthusiast for the wizarding world of J. K. Rowling, fascinated by the allure of circus acts or a partisan for the nostalgia-inducing works of Walt Disney, there was a space for you.

Having perused the numerous cultural societies available, I was both bewildered and disheartened to discover that one did not exist for African students, nor those with the desire to embrace the various cultures of the continent. It was during this moment that I pondered creating a society to cater to the aforementioned groups, an ephemeral thought that nevertheless had the conviction of a preordained pursuit.

Do these people exist? Would they be interested in joining?

Observation of the campus milieu painted a similar picture, the lack of African visibility and representation exacerbating a feeling of insignificance

It was after having taken cognisance of my environment that I soon determined this dream to be a futile endeavour. At the beginning of my degree, I had encountered only two black individuals and a melanin-challenged South African in a cohort of almost 500 students.

This is a promising start. *sigh*

Observation of the campus milieu painted a similar picture, the lack of African visibility and representation exacerbating a feeling of insignificance. Sensing the walls closing in, I retired my thoughts to a recess in my mind where they laid in wait for an opportune moment.

Two years later, while aimlessly navigating the void that is my meme and satire-infested News Feed, I chanced upon an expression of interest post concerning the formation of an African society on campus. The sudden elation that ensued was palpable, maintaining its vigour until a few weeks later when I entered the room of the inaugural general meeting. Upon seeing the mass of multi-ethnic and unfamiliar faces before me, this elation had become a sentiment of awe at the realisation that my desire to have a space for African students was justified. The unanimous and resounding support that followed cemented this need and gave birth to the Monash African Society (MAFS).

The change we were to implement was tantalising, exuding an air of confidence we breathed in without hesitation

It was after having become a member of the MAFS committee that the unseen challenges that laid before us were unveiled. In the absence of precedent, this multiculturalist vanguard strived to position an avenue of expression at the forefront of the African student experience; we were a passionate and dedicated collective unaccepting of resigning ourselves to an object of ridicule or future remnant thought of bygone years. The change we were to implement was tantalising, exuding an air of confidence we breathed in without hesitation.

The Monash African Society provided a platform for open discussions pertaining to our cultures and experiences within the African-Australian community. Discourse relating to racial stereotypes, black mental health and ethnophaulisms were both a means of catharsis for those afflicted and an opportunity to educate others in instances where such issues had eluded their consciousness.

It was a society that had become a source of pride and empowerment

It was this society that enabled me to meet black industry professionals, who imparted invaluable advice and inspired me to seek further success within my field.

It was in this environment where I observed Africans demonstrate their artistic gifts, whether it be though the spoken word or rhythmic beats.

The Monash African Society affirmed that my hair was not a burden and provided a space lacking the incessant need to caress it. It was a space wherein my scholarly pursuits did not render me “white” and photographers ensured that the flash was always turned on. It was a society that had become a source of pride and empowerment which celebrated the richness of African cultures at its core.

The current broader racial climate, and vitalised campaigning for black liberation, gives prominence to the need for associations that embrace inclusivity and are a network of support in an age of social distancing. The establishment of this space on campus had created a conduit for meaningful change within the lives of African and non-African students alike; this courageous venture of a resolute few has empowered me to articulate myself without fear of malicious reprisal.

Follow the Monash African Society on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.

J is a recent Monash University graduate navigating a depressed labour market amidst his second “once in a generation” economic collapse.

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