Afiwa Afandalo

A Positive, Supportive Environment

Afiwa Afandalo '24

"There are people willing to help you, so advocate for yourself! College, at times, might get overwhelming or you might be looking for an experience relevant to your passions and couldn’t find one. In any case, talk to your support network (Lehigh staff, faculty, or students who are supportive of you)."

Q: What is one thing you would want a prospective student to know about Lehigh?

A: There are people willing to help you, so advocate for yourself! College, at times, might get overwhelming or you might be looking for an experience relevant to your passions and couldn’t find one. In any case, talk to your support network (Lehigh staff, faculty, or students who are supportive of you). I had several moments where I lost my momentum in and outside the classroom; and at all times, people in my support network were willing to work with me. I recently submitted an assignment for a major class project. Due to personal circumstances, I wasn’t able to produce my best work. I explained to my professor and told them I wasn’t proud of what I had created. They gave me more time to create the work I would be proud to call mine. This kind of support does not stop when class is over, it goes beyond. I secured my work-study in the Gloria Naylor Archive (a unique position on campus) by talking to one of my professors about my academic interests in Africana and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (WGSS). The position turned out to be perfect for me; I met several amazing scholars (national and international) working in the fields of history, literature, Africana, etc. All this just to say, reach out to your entourage! If they don’t have the answer, they will point you toward someone who can help.

Q: How has Lehigh prepared you to take on tomorrow’s challenges?

A: Lehigh has taught me how to think critically across disciplines and lead with compassion. Both my majors are interdisciplinary so I get to have discussions that connect to other fields in the humanities and the sciences. In the Fall 2022 semester, I took a course titled “Algorithms and Social Justice” taught by Suzanne Edwards and Larry Snyder. The course was cross-listed between the WGSS department and the Industrial and System Engineering department and focused on how algorithms further perpetuate social inequalities. Never in my academic career did I ever imagine taking a course where I would be talking about algorithms or anything related to data science; yet there I was discussing how the Allegheny Family Screening Tool punishes Allegheny County’s poor and low-income parents who due to structural inequalities have a hard time parenting their children. In addition to learning across disciplines, through my experiences as an orientation leader and a mentor, I’m strengthening my leadership and collaboration skills. I’m learning to listen actively and work with individuals from diverse backgrounds to make sure they have what they need to have a successful and sustainable future. The skills I’m picking up through my classes and my experiences outside of them are shaping me into a compassionate leader and are preparing me for my future career in education policy and leadership. The education system is composed of students with diverse needs and to make sure every student is cared for and has access to all the resources they need to succeed, it is imperative to have these skills.

Q: Where have you found support and mentorship at Lehigh? How has it shaped your experience?

A: I have found support through various avenues: my friends, my professors, my advisors, and the Student Access and Success office. I started my Lehigh journey as a LUSSI student and an Eckardt Scholar and that connected me with faculty, staff, and students prior to orientation. I used this opportunity to talk with people and ask for advice on how to navigate Lehigh. They offered their knowledge and encouraged me to reach out to them whenever. And as I went on, I connected with more people such as my professors, my majors’ department chairs, etc. that trust and support me. I’m so grateful for these connections as they each have played a crucial role in shaping the student I am today. My art professor Deirdre Murphy, for example, encouraged me to use art as a tool for telling the stories I want to tell and exposed me to other contemporary Black artists. Through her mentoring, I learned to think and create critically using lines, colors, brushes, shapes, pencils, etc. She played a pivotal role in the production of my first solo exhibition at a gallery. I was already involved with Lehigh University Art Galleries (LUAG) through the Student Advisory Committee but they didn’t know about the work I was producing on Mountaintop; Deirdre was the bridge between my work and LUAG.

Q: Tell us a little about your recent body of artwork Lɔlɔ̃ ƒe Nyawo [Narratives of Love] and what inspired you to create it.

A: The journey to the Lɔlɔ̃ ƒe Nyawo [Narratives of Love] exhibition is a long one but I’ll try to keep it short. My artistry, similar to my extracurriculars and academics, engages in conversations around community building, support, and social justice. Throughout my art career at Lehigh, I have been working on a visual art project that I titled "Black Joy and Healing". This project stemmed from my quarantine experience in 2020. This was also a complex time for Black communities around the globe; not just in terms of the COVID-19 pandemic but also the effects of systemic inequalities that plague our society. Everywhere I looked, whether in the US or on the continent of Africa, I saw continuous violence on Black bodies. Prior to quarantine, in moments like this, I usually cope by putting all my focus on my academic and extracurriculars. But at that moment, I had none of that to turn to. So, to find some sort of peace, I turned to my family and friends. They were also going through similar emotions so we found comfort within each other. So, when I started Lehigh in the Fall of 2020, I decided to continue to create these spaces and wanted to show other members of the Black community how they can do so as well. Through paintings and drawings, I explore these concepts of Black joy and healing; what they mean, how Black people engage in them, and their importance in relation to social justice for Black people in the US and abroad. I asked questions such as “In times of despair, where do you go to find strength and peace?, Where and how do we find love, comfort, etc.?” These questions are the backbone of the "Black Joy and Healing" project. The Lɔlɔ̃ ƒe Nyawo [Narratives of Love] exhibition is a selection of art pieces from this ongoing project. Titled "Lɔlɔ̃ ƒe Nyawo", a phrase in Ewe (my first language) that translate to "Narratives of Love" in English, the exhibition investigates how we experience comfort, love, peace, joy, etc. through family and community relationships. For example, the Trio in the exhibition, which is my two grandmother's pieces and my self-portrait, is about memory and how those memories fuel my existence today. Growing up in Togo, my grandmothers were always a source of joy for me. Whenever I was with them, I knew I was going to eat well, see a cousin I have not seen in a long time, and run around the compound with the other kids. These are exciting and safe moments for me and as I share these moments with my close friends, I realized they too had similar moments with their communities and it is one way they find joy and healing in their life. These are the moments, thoughts, and questions that informed the Lɔlɔ̃ ƒe Nyawo [Narratives of Love].

Q: You applied to 32 schools, why Lehigh?

A: I was accepted into Lehigh as an Eckardt scholar, boosting Lehigh up my list of schools I was considering. Prior to my acceptance letter, I didn’t know much about Lehigh except that it was a top school in PA and had the academic programs I was interested in. Right after I got the admission news (and called my mentors while crying), I looked further into student life to see if I could see myself, a 1st Gen, low-income, immigrant student grow personally and professionally in the Lehigh environment. During my research, I found resources specifically designed for me through the Student Access and Success office, with programs such as LUSSI, Passport to Success, F1RST, etc. I thrive in a positive and supportive environment and by finding these resources, I knew I will find people who will be supportive of me and my curious adventures. Also, I always knew I wanted to go abroad, whether to study, volunteer, or intern. So, when I found the Iacocca International Internship Program, I told my mentors “I think Lehigh is my best option at this moment!”. When it was time to decide where to go, I created a list of things that stood out to me for each school I was considering; and Lehigh took the win.

Q: What is your favorite thing about Lehigh?

A: I have my top three favs and I can decide which one to choose. All the things I’m about to list have been the highlight of my Lehigh experience. First is the look of campus (during fall, spring, and summer), it is just breathtaking to me in those seasons and a natural stress reliever from my perspective. I love to go on walks, either by myself or with my friends. My second favorite is my support network. Whatever it is, I know I’ll find someone who I can talk to and who will help me figure out whatever challenge I’m facing. When I decided to study abroad in Ghana, I briefly had trouble securing funds to cover the cost of the experience. So, I talked with my Eckardt advisor Prof. Lay about it, she said “We can help with that!”. My third favorite is my list of extracurriculars. I have yet to participate in something that I did not enjoy. The students I have worked with participate in things they care about and that create a positive and exciting energy that brings out the best in me. One of my favorite experiences so far has been being an Orientation Leader. From training all the way to orientation, even when we feel tired, everyone shows up with 100% of what they have that day and that helps all of us get through the day. Through this, I have met some really amazing Lehigh students and connected with staff and faculty across campus.

Q: Where is your study spot of choice on campus?

A: During the fall and spring seasons, I love to study on the 5th floor of STEPS, by the glass windows on the side overlooking Northside; the view is AMAZING!

 

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The Prepared Graduate

Major: Computer Science and Business
Hometown: Almaty, Kazakhstan