There were a lot of different faces present in the Walsh Function Room Tuesday night to discuss one burning question: Is the AHANA acronym relevant today?
Valerie Lewis-Mosley ’79, who helped coined the acronym, was present for the conversation and offered a definition more eloquent and more definitive than anything we have heard about the descriptor AHANA before. “AHANA is not a club. It is not a name. It is not a distinction. It is an acronym,” Lewis-Mosley said, “AHANA is an acronym used to inscribe those with the diasporas of the continents of Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Native people.”
Lewis-Mosley continued her introduction by stating that she arrived at Boston College through an initiative BC instituted in 1968 called the Negro Talent Search, which later evolved into the Black Talent Program. What Lewis-Mosley witnessed while at BC was a constant prejudice against her solely based on the color of her skin. This prompted her and other students to chain themselves to Gasson Hall in protest and inspired the group to come up with a new term for their 'minority' status. Thus the AHANA acronym was created. As Mrs. Mosley stated, “You join AHANA at birthright because it speaks to the self-determination about who you are.”
AHANA was initially created as this definition of self, not an exclusive club. It is similar to saying that you are Virgo, a New Yorker, a Boston College student; it is a way to define yourself. In our nation’s history, minorities haven't always had the ability to openly define themselves. So is AHANA still relevant? It some ways yes, but the problem with the acronym AHANA is that it has been used to promote a club-like mentality. The definition that the majority of the student body has adopted implies segregation, not integration. The purpose of the acronym was to help minorities who felt different to feel like they were as much a part of the student body as the majority.
It is fair to say that students still feel the need to be represented by the AHANA acronym at BC. The truth of the matter is that this is a predominantly white campus. Nothing in the immediate future will change that. In this case, the acronym is still relevant and necessary. Not only does it have that historical significance that Mrs.Lewis-Mosley touched upon, but its social value is not to be undermined.
With that being said, many students feel that the social value of the acronym is one of exclusivity. One student, Erin Kelley (CSOM ‘15) asked a socially relevant question pertaining to this issue. She grew up in a predominantly Hispanic community in Chelsea, MA. Kelly stated that she identified more with people who are minorities at BC, although she herself is of Irish and Italian descent. She asked Mrs.Lewis-Mosley, “So, where do I fit into the AHANA acronym?” Mrs. Mosley didn't exactly answer her question, but more so mentioned that minorities should not overlook the majority of students, because you never know where someone comes from or what their stories are.
But the fact that she did not directly answer her question, answers the question in a way. The cold hard truth is that Kelley does not fit into the AHANA acronym. Historically as a “white” female, she is not represented by this acronym, because although she may have felt like a minority in her community, the acronym was created when the entire nation’s population of minorities felt ostracized.
So yes, as an individual that technically belongs to the majority of our campus’ population, she is not represented by the acronym. But that is not to say that she is not allowed to be involved with the AHANA community. Kelley has taken part in the Options through Education (OTE) program which is sponsored by AHANA. Anyone who does not identify with AHANA can participate in organizations like FACES, OLAA, VIP, DABC, the Haitian Association, VSBC, VSA, or any of the numerous groups on campus affiliated with the office. Just because you may not represent AHANA in the logistical sense doesn’t mean that you are any less a part of the community as a whole. Because at the end of the day, as Mrs. Lewis-Mosley said, it’s about integration, not segregation.
Bernadette and I participated in the OTE Program in 2011. Even though we are both from New York, have mutual friends and even went to school in areas the other is familiar with, we mentioned how without OTE we would have probably never met on campus. With the student body's view of the AHANA acronym, it’s no secret that Bernadette and I could’ve shared many BC lookaways in the quad. While this does display some sort of segregation between AHANA students and the majority of the BC community, it unites us as student body who need to be that agent of changing this fostered stigma.
We hear time and time again that the acronym AHANA is one of exclusivity. Many petition the administration to eliminate the acronym on the basis that this term is responsible for segregation among the BC community. But why don’t we take a moment to look at what we, the student body, have allowed the definition of AHANA to become? After all, it was the student body who pushed for the implementation of AHANA. We have just forgotten what the true essence of the acronym is. That’s why Lewis-Mosley came back to BC, to remind the student body and to inspire us to be agents of change in changing the way we think about AHANA before any progress is made.
Of course you can point the finger at administrators as Lewis-Mosley mentioned at the closing of the conversation. She displayed the Sesquicentennial history of BC and that there was no mention of the legacy of AHANA. Also, the inability to truly define AHANA at orientations is critical because the freshmen are the future of the university.
But at the end of the day, we, the students need to realize it isn’t about whether or not you are AHANA or if you are involved in AHANA affairs on campus. We have to realize that Boston College students, 9,100 strong, must be the ones to change the way we think about AHANA. While it may have some faults, AHANA is ultimately beneficial and a strong suit of the community here at Boston College.