Pericles Lewis visits African countries; advances YAI

Following faculty concerns about the Yale African Studies program’s lack of resources, Vice President Pericles Lewis traveled across the African continent over spring break to discuss Yale’s scholarship and research with academics and to strengthen Yale’s ties with partner institutions.

Over the span of 10 days, Lewis participated in the Women’s Leadership Forum in Ethiopia and met with students, faculty members and officials at the University’s partner institutions, such as Makerere University in Uganda and the Aurum Institute and the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa. The trip — which coincides with the six-year anniversary of the Yale Africa Initiative — follows Salovey’s inaugural promise in 2013 to increase research and teachings about Africa at Yale.

“The reason Professor Pericles Lewis embarked on the trip was to directly support the partnerships and important work happening in Africa,” Director for Africa at the Office of International Affairs Eddie Mandhry said in an email to the News. “Our work there and here on campus focuses upon critically important topics such as global health and medicine and science that improves lives and educates future world leaders. Given his role as vice president of global strategy and deputy provost for international affairs, it is only fitting that Professor Lewis is actively engaged with our partners on the continent to directly support that work.”

At the Women’s Leadership Forum — which was co-hosted by Yale, a nonprofit organization called La Fundación Mujeres por África and Santander Bank — Lewis gave welcoming remarks and discussed governance and policy issues in Africa, Lewis told the News. Now entering its fourth year, the forum annually brings a group of 15 female leaders from at least five countries to New Haven in May for further discussions on topics important to Africa’s social, political and economic development. These topics include public health and environmental sustainability, per the University website.

In Ethiopia, Lewis also met with officials for the Primary Health Transformation Initiative — a program created by a team from the University’s Global Health Leadership Institute — which partnered with Ethiopia’s Ministry of Health to improve management skills at health centers and district health offices around the country. According to Lewis, he also talked to administrators, faculty members and students at Makerere University in Uganda, which has exchanged physicians and medical students with Yale for over 12 years to improve patient care at both institutions. In South Africa, Lewis visited the African Leadership Academy, a two-year college preparatory school co-founded by Chris Bradford ’00 in 2004.

“The purpose of the visit was to express support for what their faculty are doing on behalf of the University leadership and look into how we can continue and strengthen the partnership,” Lewis told the News.

Lewis added that the University will continue to strengthen its existing relationships with institutions of higher education in Africa, rather than seeking new partnerships.

In an email to the News, Chair of the Council on African Studies and co-director of the Yale Africa Initiative Michael Cappello emphasized that Yale has expanded ties within the African continent. The number of African students has risen steadily over the past six years, and the University now offers more opportunities for student research and faculty collaboration with African scholars, Cappello added. According to Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan, a senior admissions officer travels to eight or nine African countries every other year to visit schools and community-based organizations.

“Since announcing the Initiative in his inaugural address, President Salovey has overseen the establishment of Africa as a teaching, learning and research priority at Yale,” Cappello said.

But in an interview with the News last year, the director of undergraduate studies for African Studies Daniel Magaziner said the University’s African Studies program lacks the departmental status necessary to recruit its own faculty and often struggles to offer enough courses for its master’s degree students. Magaziner told the News at the time that there was a disconnect between Salovey’s highly-publicized trip to Africa and “the everyday teaching that happens on campus.”

In an email to the News, Magaziner said the University has put additional resources for hiring in African Studies. History of Art Professor Cecile Fromont joined the Faculty of Arts and Sciences this year, while the English, history and history of science and medicine departments recruited new scholars who will be conducting research for the African Studies Program next academic year, Magaziner said.

“While acknowledging these gains for African Studies, as [the director of undergraduate studies], I am also keenly aware of our gaps, especially in the social sciences where a very small number of colleagues do tremendous work trying to offer coverage for the entirety of the continent,” Magaziner said. “The biggest need is in economics, which is a very popular double major for our students, yet which does not have a single Africa-specialist on the faculty, having not yet replaced two scholars who have left.”

According to Lewis, it is typical for regional studies programs to not have departmental status. Lewis added that African Studies faculty members he met with prior to his trip were “extremely enthusiastic” about the ongoing progress of the Yale Africa Initiative.

“Personally, I don’t think the lack of department status has negatively affected the recruitment of stellar Africanists, as evidenced by the recent acceptance of posts at Yale by Nana Osei Quarshie and Cajetan Iheka, two of the brightest Africanist scholars in America today,” said English Professor Stephanie Newell, whose research focuses on colonial West Africa. “But I would be happy to see African Studies become a department so we can develop truly interdisciplinary courses and collaborate in offering teaching across our different departments.”

Salovey visited Ghana and Kenya in March 2018, becoming the first sitting Yale President to travel to the continent.