The African Student Association held its annual banquet on April 18, the fourth fundraising event this year for the Yakubu Saaka Scholarship Fund. The ASA is attempting to raise $50,000 for the fund by May. The fund was established in 2009 in honor of Dr. Yakubu Saaka — a longtime professor from Ghana and a significant contributor to the Africana Studies Department — to provide financial aid for African students.
“[Oberlin College is] always trying to reach out to the [African] continent to get more students in, and the reality is most students in the continent cannot afford this private school education,” said College junior and ASA Co-chair Sophie Umazi Mvurya. “So it clashes with their mission of trying to extend their outreach to Africa, but at the same time not catering to the fact that most students who come from the Africa will need that extra push to attend such a college.”
The idea for the fund first came about in the discussion between Saaka’s widow and Development Office staff after Saaka passed away. The class of 2009 and ASA started fundraising in 2009, and students have continued to raise money for the fund in the years since.
However, members of the ASA and the administration have disagreed about whether or not the fund was intended to be a current-use fund or an endowed fund. The College spends current-use funds each year until nothing is left; endowed funds, conversely, are mostly invested, with the profit from the fund’s investments being spent each year, while the bulk of the fund remains perpetually intact. The College typically only endows funds if they have at least $50,000.
While ASA students fundraised under the impression that the money was being saved for the $50,000 threshold in order for the fund to become an endowed fund, the fund was actually established as a current-use gift in 2010 — as shown by an internal memo written when the fund was originally established. As a result, the Development Office distributed the fund over the last few years as financial aid for African students. At the beginning of this year, only $137.70 was left.
According to Vice President of Development and Alumni Affairs Bill Barlow, the Development Office set up the fund after failing to reach Mrs. Saaka after the original meeting.
“[The Stewardship staff ] made many efforts to try to reach her again and to have her sign the agreement, but they haven’t been rather successful in reaching her, so we went ahead and set up the fund,” Barlow said. “But because it was $8,000, it was [established as] a current-use fund. So from our perspective, this was a current-use fund, with the knowledge of the family from the beginning.”
According to Mvurya, Barlow’s statement contradicted Africana Studies department professor Dr. Darko Opoku, who believed Mrs. Saaka shared the students’ impression that the fund was endowed. Mrs. Saaka could not be reached by the Review for comment.
ASA members also questioned whether money from the fund was used as financial aid for non-African students. Barlow denied the possibility.
“We have reported to Mrs. Saaka every year since the fund was established about who is the student and how the fund has been used to support that student,” Barlow said. “We have been using the fund in accordance to Mrs. Saaka’s wishes.”
Now that ASA knows about the state of the fund, its goal is to raise $50,000 by May to make the Yakubu Saaka fund endowed. In addition to the banquet, ASA also organized a culture showcase, The African Way, a fashion show, Runway to Africa, and participated in Oberlin’s annual student show Colors of Rhythm. A crowdsourcing website for the fund was arranged to raise money as well, and the site has raised $1,760 to date. The fund is also one of the choices seniors may donate to for their Senior Gift.