Associate provost on Africa and its impact

“Africa… more than a continent, more than corruption, more than suffering…” were some of the thoughts that Dr. Carol Burton, the associate provost of undergraduate studies, shared when talking about this year’s university wide theme. When the theme, Africa! More than a Continent, started in the fall 2015 many people were skeptical and Burton acknowledged that the theme ‘isn’t a natural fit for WCU but it still is a good one.’Carol Burton

“In some cases, folks would think… What does Africa have in common with Cullowhee and our University… but to me, that’s all the more reason why we should study it. We’re an institution of higher education so we should be looking beyond our own boundaries,” explained Burton.

Burton helped lead the charge to select the theme by getting the endorsement of faculty, administration and students. As associate provost, part of the job is increasing undergraduate student involvement through academics. One of Burton’s approaches included meeting with Aramark, campus catering services, who hosted a week-long event that showcased African foods.

Burton chose Africa after seeing all that was going on in the world and thought it would be exciting to explore the comprehensiveness/ complexities of Africa. She stressed wanting for students to gain true knowledge of Africa and not have thoughts on the continent based on what is said in the news.

“We tend to think of Africa as one homogeneous country and society. It is so diverse,” said Burton adding that the media tend to focus on few topics when it comes to Africa like poverty, disease and corruption.

Africa, the second largest continent in the world, is made up of 54 countries. This continent is abundant in natural resources and a variety of languages spoken throughout the continent. National Geographic wrote that “over 25 percent of all languages are spoken only in Africa with over 2,000 recognized languages spoken on the continent.” Africa has much to offer aside from being widely known  continent with animal inhabitants and historic findings.

The university focused on educating students and faculty on the continent for the first year but will continue to do so in the second year. As they enter their second year of this interdisciplinary theme, the goal is to pull students to take part in the activities centered on the culture of Africa. Dr. Lane Perry, Director of the Center for Service learning, is working with Burton to get students to participate in activities surrounded by the theme. They are coordinating volunteer opportunities for students to give shoes to children, both locally and internationally.

In addition, the Center for Service Learning is working with Manny Ohonme, the president of Samaritan’s feet, to take students to South Africa or Zambia. Initially, the plan was to go to Burundi but with the current problem due to politics has placed Burundi as an unsafe traveling place.

Walk for Africa. Photo by. Michaella Neal

“Walk for Africa,” was one of the events in the fall 2015. 
Photo by Michaella Neal.

“Samaritan’s Feet is helping us organize a service learning course this summer that will culminate in travel to South Africa and other parts of the continent; we have weekly conference calls regarding our partnership,” Burton explained in an e-mail.

Burton thinks that it is very important for students and faculty to expand their knowledge on Africa and by participating in these activities, it will surely help.

“We are so very different, but within those differences, we can still see many similarities. I hope our students learn many things about our respective cultures,” said Burton.

If WCU students show a positive perception of Africa and not one of an impoverished country then Burton feels the theme will succeed. The theme seeks to enlighten people about cultures and lifestyles that they don’t know about or understand. There are different ways for students and faculty to inform themselves and others but they have to be willing to learn and participate.