- Last Updated on 15 February 2017
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By Stéphane Robolin, Director of the Center for African Studies and Associate Professor of English, Rutgers University
Since 2010, the Center for African Studies at Rutgers University has had the privilege of hosting 12 ASA Presidential Fellows. The fellows program represents an extraordinary exchange for the four-to-seven days before or after the annual African Studies Association Meeting, and the fruits of that exchange continue well after.
Our practice at Rutgers’ Center for African Studies has been to host two fellows, typically from different regions of the continent and from different disciplinary fields. And our preference/selection is largely driven by an interest in complementarity with the scholars we hope to host, keeping in mind what we can offer the fellows and what the fellows have to offer us. Prior to their arrival, we schedule a range of events and meetings for each fellow, according to their own interests, specialties, and preferences. These range from class visits and lectures to meetings with faculty members, graduate students, and expert staff members as well as collective coffees and dinners; in some cases, we bring fellows into public K-12 schools as a means of outreach with others outside the university.
Indeed, one of our signal strategies has been to involve ASA Presidential Fellows in our efforts to connect different parts of the university as well as engage surrounding universities and the general public. We’ve frequently collaborated with the Mason Gross School of the Arts—especially, their departments of music, theatre, and visual arts—to acquaint them with their faculty and facilities. Last year, for instance, the fellows took a tour of the Brodsky Center to examine the prints of world-class African, American, and other international artists produced onsite. And while our Center is based on the flagship New Brunswick campus, we frequently program some events with fellows on Rutgers’ other campuses in Camden and Newark, NJ, in order to ensure that Africanists throughout the university system benefit from the fellows’ presence, too. We’ve also taken particular advantage of our proximity to New York City and to other universities in the area. Several years back, we aligned two fellows’ visit with an engrossing interdisciplinary colloquium at Princeton University entitled “African Memory & the Crisis of the Present.” We’ve also had the honor of involving our historic local institutions; at different times, we’ve partnered with the renowned Crossroads Theatre, which has long showcased African-focused productions, to host lectures by fellows.
The benefits of the ASA Presidential Fellows program are extraordinary. The program offers an ideal opportunity to conduct genuine international engagement, support, and exchange. We at Rutgers have been lucky enough to employ it in the service of mutual intellectual exchange—whereby our students and faculty learn a great amount and our fellow-presenters are enriched by questions and comments, in response. And it has offered a rich means of mutual networking, especially when our honored guests and we share geographic or academic interests. Visiting Presidential Fellows often report being impressed by a rather full multi-day schedule (one that does recognize the perils of jetlag!), and more often than not, they are invigorated by how seriously we take their work and presence and by the warmth of our local Africanist community.
In an era when many universities are woefully short on funds for supporting long-term visiting scholars, the ASA has succeeded in crafting the best alternative to extended visits. From our vantage point at Rutgers University, the ASA Presidential Fellows program has been a gift to both the host and the hosted. It is a genuine boon that contributes to so much of what we do at Rutgers’ Center for African Studies, and we remain appreciative to both the succession of Presidential Fellows who have joined us and to the ASA for this possibility of genuine, if brief, engagement. We aim to continue hosting fellows regularly, given its extraordinary benefits to our campus, the fellows, and beyond.