Dickinson in Cameroon Program Suspended

Naji Thompson, Contributing Writer

Members of the Africana studies Department worry the suspension of the Dickinson in Cameroon program, due to safety issues caused by the anglophone conflict in the country, limits the study abroad opportunities for majors who wish to study abroad.  

“We don’t have any other programs in Africa….We don’t have a lot of choices available right now to our majors,” says Lynn Johnson, associate professor of Africana studies. 

“Dickinson sets us up in this linear path. For your junior year you’re supposed to study abroad,” said Sakinah Hobbs ’20, an Africana studies and sociology major. “I don’t think they’re making sure every major is doing that and I didn’t notice that until this semester when I realized Cameroon was my only option,” she said. 

Executive Director for the Center for Global Study and Engagement (CGSE) Samantha C. Brandauer said in an email, “It is a priority to make sure that Africana studies majors continue to have strong options for study abroad and that many students, representing a variety of majors, will have the opportunity to study abroad in Africa.  Currently, we have 2 partner programs in Africa—Amideast Morocco and SFS Tanzania.” 

According to Johnson, most of the courses in Morocco teach an Arab perspective of the country and do not offer courses centered on broader African perspectives. The SFS Tanzania program’s global studies website page encourages biology, environmental science and environmental studies majors to apply. Because the major is a humanities discipline, Johnson said, Africana students are not drawn to the Tanzania program either. 

While the Dickinson in Germany and the Dickinson in Norwich programs have Africana studies listed as a supported academic field, Johnson said Africana majors are “interested in looking at culture from a non-Eurocentric perspective,” and would prefer to study in countries outside of Europe. Neither of these programs, nor the Morocco and Tanzania partner programs, have offered enough courses to support an Africana major for an entire semester.

Johnson said she hopes an alternative program in “an African country,” can be created.

“For Africana Studies there are not a lot of places to study abroad. Even if you focus on the diaspora, that would only be to South America,” Hobbs said.

Hobbs was planning on attending the spring 2019 Cameroon Program for personal and academic reasons. “I always knew I wanted to go to Africa and then being an Africana studies major it made sense…a lot the of the course listing for Cameroon qualified as electives for both of my majors,” she said, “I also didn’t want to go to a western culture, because I live that every day.”

After Hobbs’ advisor voiced concerns about the safety of the program she decided to withdraw her application. A week later she was informed the program had been cancelled. Instead, Hobbs applied to the 2019 Rwanda Mosaic.  

“With all of our programs we’re constantly monitoring issues related to health and safety,” said Brandauer. “We had felt comfortable going through an application season with Cameroon, but then as we gathered more information… it didn’t make sense… Even if we felt like we could have kept our students physically safe, it’s just a challenging environment to learn in right now.” 

Brandauer said she heard from students who had gone on the Cameroon program last semester that “they felt not that they were unsafe, but that it made for a more challenging environment for them.” There are no students currently abroad in Cameroon, as it is only offered in the spring.

“I’m pleased with this decision now, because the way that the country is moving forward, and given previous groups’ feedback of the students who had been to Cameroon, it was the right move to just suspend it for a year to reevaluate the program, to make sure the country was safe and to implement new measures and initiatives that will help make the program and the experience better for the students who go there in the future,” said Julien Herpers ’19, who went to Cameroon with Dickinson in the spring of 2018.

Though Hobbs agreed suspending the program was the “appropriate step to take” she feels there should be more options for her go abroad and focus on her Africana major.

Past participants who are not Africana majors said the Cameroon Program appealed to them because of their interested in Africana studies and West Africa.

“I’m an International Studies major who wanted to spend… at least half of my year abroad in a non-European, non-English-speaking country,” wrote Shayna Sheehan ’19 in an email. Sheehan also went to Cameroon with the Dickinson program in spring 2018. “The Cameroon program encompassed my interests in Africana studies, security studies and human security,” she said.

Nathalie Ingersoll ’19, another spring 2018 program participant, says she chose Cameroon, a French speaking country, because she is a French and Francophone studies major and it fulfilled her desire to return to West Africa after spending a gap year in Senegal.

“I think it’s incredibly important that we have a Dickinson study abroad program on the African continent,” said Herpers, “at least representing the wide diversity of the continent, with our Moroccan partner program and a sub-Saharan African Dickinson program, I think that that’s vital.”