resenting Africa to You (PATU) entered the Boston College scene in 1995 with two goals: To help build a community for African diaspora students and showcase its vibrant culture through hosting events and speakers, as well as providing academic and social support to its members. It later became a dance group, allowing students to exhibit their cultures. At BC, where black students make up only 4 percent of the population, sharing their culture can prove to be a unifying experience for the dancers and an opportunity for other students to embrace a culture different from their own.
This year, PATU has one of its largest teams to date. With 21 dancers, it has grown every year and created a bigger impact on the BC community. Last year, the group won the culture category of Showdown, which raised lots of awareness for the team.
Showdown has a general competition and a culture subgroup. PATU is especially proud because it didn’t have to compete in the culture category, but it chose to do so in order to keep its ties with the African Student Organization (ASO).
“We didn’t have to be under the culture category,” Fatoumata Sall, co-captain of PATU and MCAS ’21, said. “But we wanted to continue our relationship with ASO because they’re a nice extended family.”
Winning at Showdown meant the world to PATU. The team put in its share of hard work—often practicing late into the night—and seeing all of the extra hours pay off filled everyone with joy.
“Putting in so much hard work takes a physical and emotional toll on our bodies,” Sall said. “But we had our friends there for support, and we never take that for granted.”
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he group has branched out beyond Showdown, though. PATU often dances at competitions around Boston, such as a recent one at Northeastern University in which they took first place. Kalkidan Tadesse, MCAS ’21, described the group’s enduring connection to ASO: PATU originally stemmed from ASO and still is a part of the organization, which provides funding, food for events, and different programs. This deeply established partnership allows PATU to have an important role in race relations at BC: The group’s original mission statement announced its intention to introduce the African culture to other students, recruit prospective African students, and support African students through mentorship.
[aesop_quote type=”block” background=”#638e48″ text=”#ffffff” align=”left” size=”1″ quote=”“The main objectives of the new club PATU are: 1.) to introduce the diversity of Africa and its cultures, traditions, customs and politics to the Boston College community; 2.) to have a commitment to the recruitment of potential African students to Boston College; and 3.) to provide support for students of African descent in the form of mentoring in the areas of academic and social issues."” parallax=”off” direction=”left” revealfx=”off”]
n a Letter to the Editor (LTE) published in The Heights on Nov. 13, 1995, Nampeera Lugira, former activities coordinator of PATU and BC ’96, laid out the purpose behind the creation of the club:
“The main objectives of the new club PATU are: 1.) to introduce the diversity of Africa and its cultures, traditions, customs and politics to the Boston College community; 2.) to have a commitment to the recruitment of potential African students to Boston College; and 3.) to provide support for students of African descent in the form of mentoring in the areas of academic and social issues,” the LTE read.
The group’s strong presence is truly making a difference, even outside of BC. PATU can be a huge drawing point for many students of color who are deciding whether to attend.
“I went to a lot of admissions programs this year and students would ask me about being on PATU,” Sall said. “Knowing that our name is getting out there even beyond BC is really important to showcasing our mission and everything we’re about.”
PATU members are highly involved on campus, and the team embraces the individual skills and interests of each person. Tadesse is a Undergraduate Government of Boston College senator and campaign manager for Michael Osaghae, MCAS ’20 and Tiffany Brooks, MCAS ’21, and Sall is a part of the Muslim Student Association and working on a podcast for BC Alum.
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or all of its members, PATU is a family and home away from home. The e-board members know it’s not easy to juggle school, work, and jobs, and they take their leadership roles very seriously. What is most important to them is the personal growth and development of all the dancers on the team.
“It’s a dance group—we’re not getting credit,” Sall said. “We want the new members to feel supported. We always practice what we preach, hold each other accountable, and treat each other with respect because that’s what keeps a family going.”
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he group’s emphasis on emotional well-being is especially important to its identity. When you’re working around the clock with a group of people, without credit or pay, a certain connection is sure to form.
“We can’t perform to the best of our ability if we aren’t there for each other emotionally,” Tadesse said. “For us, it’s always that kind of energy.”
PATU prides itself on being one of the most dynamic teams at BC while keeping its traditional core values and style. The group is able to adapt to newer forms of African music and dance, such as Afrobeats and dancehall music, while still retaining aspects of traditional African dance. The addition of new members from various parts of the African diaspora allows for diversification of style and energy.
The team’s ability to broaden its base with members from different backgrounds and cultures is a huge benefit. Especially in something as artistic as dance, diversity allows for everyone involved and watching to expand their horizons and learn something new.
One of PATU’s most unique and important attributes to its members is its ability to provide a safe space for its members. While some of BC’s other dance groups might be made up of mainly minority students, PATU is the only group to consist solely of black students.
“People are involved in other groups on campus, but PATU is always our safe space, dance is our getaway” Tadesse said. “Whenever we feel like ‘Who doesn’t want me here?’ we know we’re surrounded by people who love and accept us.”
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hroughout BC’s history, racist incidents on campus have divided students at BC. Three incidents have had a particularly large impact on BC’s campus in the recent years: the defacing of Black Lives Matter signs in Roncalli Hall and racist Snapchat in 2017, and the racist vandalism allegedly perpetrated by Michael Sorkin, CSOM ’21, in Welch Hall in December 2018. Hopeful pleas among students were heard all around, but the administration did little to meet the demands made by students in the wake of these events.
In light of the several incidents that have taken place on BC’s campus over the past couple years, finding a supportive group is important. PATU knows how crucial it is to take a stand in lieu of these issues, so that black students know they have a place here.
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esides PATU, black students also frequently find a home in Sexual Chocolate and Females Incorporating Sisterhood Through Step (F.I.S.T.S.). The sense of family and solidarity is likely why black students make up 18 percent of BC’s dance groups, despite accounting for such a small portion of BC’s total student population.
“Sometimes we don’t see people who look like us on a daily basis, sometimes we’re the only person of color in our classrooms,” Tadesse said. “We tend to seek places where we can find people that look like us, because on this campus it’s very rare.”
Many students share these same sentiments, which is why Tadesse and Sall believe the black dance community is so vibrant at BC. The teams are safe havens where each person is celebrated and respected. These makeshift families can totally turn a student’s experience at BC around for the better.
“When we’re all in sync and moving as one there’s a real connection,” Tadesse said. “We love each other, we just dance.”
Featured Image by Kaitlin Meeks / Heights Senior Staff