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The Sankofa Welcome

Enhancing the ASU Black student experience through community and culture


Large group of students pose for a photos at the Sankofa Welcome at ASU, fall 2022
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August 21, 2022

Somewhere in between residence hall move-ins and a curbside college send-off, complete with care package handoffs and misty-eyed side-hugs, dozens of new Sun Devils embraced a maroon-and-golden opportunity to jump-start their ASU journey in a culturally connected way.

Over four days and five nights — and before tens of thousands of students began their descent on ASU’s campuses en masse for the first day of classes — about 100 first-year students and their families carved out some time and space to convene and commune at the Sankofa Leadership Institute Welcome hosted by the Black African Coalition at ASU.

A student-developed, staff-supported residential program, Sankofa takes its name from the Akan West African word that expresses the idea of “looking backward to move forward.”

It was developed to help incoming students navigate a multi-campus institution such as ASU and mitigate what can be an overwhelming and isolating experience for any first-time student, which, according to studiesStudies, including the findings of the study "Predicting the Adjustment of Black Students at Predominantly White Institutions," (https://www.jstor.org/stable/1982004) suggest variables that reflect a Black cultural frame of reference at institutions of higher education can have a positive impact on Black college student adjustment and retention., can be even more so for Black students at predominantly white institutions.

The yearly program, held this fall from Aug. 9–13 across ASU’s four campuses, provides a high level overview of the ASU college experience for new students and a sense of assurance for parents of "adulting" children — parents like Karlene Burrell-McRae, who traveled more than 2,000 miles across the country to help transition her daughter, the first to leave the nest, to college.

Admitting to feeling a little anxious about “letting go,” Burrell-McRae said attending ASU’s Sankofa Welcome program was also helping her settle into her new role as a college parent.Listen here

I was intrigued and impressed that for an institution that is so big, you all found a way to make it feel intimate. There was a sense of connection that I was really surprised by for a space that was so large. And so when she said this is where she wants to go, I was like, 'You're going to be OK.'

— Karlene Burrell-McRae, parent of a first-year ASU student and Sankofa Welcome participant

Students and parents participated in presentations, tours, mock classroom experiences and other activities throughout Sankofa’s welcome week, which began at the Student Pavilion on ASU’s Tempe campus. The program also introduced pathways and resources for students to connect and engage with the Black community at ASU. And that was especially energizing for Burrell-McRae’s daughter Coltrane McRae, coming from a small town in Maine to pursue studies in business entrepreneurship. Listen here

I'm so excited to meet new people. It's good to finally have some sense of community and being around people who look like me. Being engaged in my learning is something that I'm really looking forward to because the only class that I liked in Maine was French.

— Coltrane McRae, first-year student from Maine and Sankofa Welcome participant

Arriving from Atlanta with his parents to participate in Sankofa’s welcome week activities, avid hockey player Keenan Brown said ASU checked all the boxes he was looking for to begin his education journey toward a career on the business side of sports. Listen here

I really want to be a sports agent in the hockey world, so I had a mental checklist of all the things that I wanted in a college town: close to a big city; a great school program — W. P. Carey ranks high nationally; then it had to have all the sports teams for internships. And it had to be warm!

— Keenan Brown, first-year student from Atlanta and Sankofa Welcome participant

The Sankofa Welcome also included a rousing greeting from Cassandra Aska, deputy vice president for Student Services. In welcoming the students on the first full day of the program, Aska emphasized the rewards of being “in community” with other people and encouraged Sankofa attendees to also explore the various welcome events and activities in the larger ASU community.

She shared her own story of being a first-generation college student and even offered up her personal phone number for the students and parents to contact her with questions.

“My journey through my education has been very much dependent on mentors and on being vulnerable and asking for assistance,” Aska said. “Being able to connect with peers and engage in social activities that uplifted my spirits helped me build community and connect with the university.”

She added, “I only ask of you one thing: to be who you are supposed to be, and to leave here with a degree in hand.”

The Sankofa Leadership Institute is just one of a number of programs, events, organizations and resources supported by the Black African Coalition at ASU. In its commitment to fostering a supportive campus community for all students, the Black African Coalition continues to develop guides and programs to connect students with the resources they need to thrive at ASU.

Alongside the goals of the wider LIFT Initiative — ASU’s commitment to enhance and support the lived, teaching and learning experiences of Black students, faculty and staff — the Black African Coalition is dedicated to unifying students of African descent in culture and community, and supporting ASU recruitment, retention and graduation.

More information about the Sankofa Leadership Institute, the Black African Coalition and other student clubs, services and activities can be found on the Educational Outreach and Student Serviceswebsite at ASU.

Top photo courtesy ASU Educational Outreach Student Services

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