Students Start New Weekly Class in African Language
In a push to increase African studies offerings at Harvard, a group of students have started a weekly class in Igbo, the language and culture of southeast Nigeria.
The three students and professor who organized the class are petitioning the University to recognize their class as a full-credit offering, but are unsure of what the outcome will be.
"We're still negotiating with the administration...Right now I don't know what's going to happen," said the course's instructor, Boston University professor Victor B. Manfredi '78-'79. "I respect the students enormously for their interest and dedication."
Manfredi has agreed to teach the class free of charge and regardless of whether the University decides to give credit for the class.
The class meets from 7 to 9 p.m. on Thursdays in the Currier House poker room. Currently, it has just three regular participants.
But Onyinye I. Iweala '02 said she believes gaining official recognition for the Igbo class would be an important step towards a larger project--the establishment of more African language and study classes at Harvard.
"If we can get a core group of students, we can build it up in the future," she said.
Students said they believe the course fills a void in Harvard's curriculum.
Okechukwu U. Nwokocha '01 said he is especially grateful for this initiative because "there are quite a few Igbos at Harvard, but a lack of classes being taught."
Over 20 million people worldwide speak Igbo.
And Katerina Linos '99-'00, president of the Woodbridge Society for International Students, said the course has implications beyond the classroom for those interested in studying Nigeria.
"This opens up many doors, as some research, employment and volunteer options are difficult to pursue without appropriate language training," she wrote in an e-mail message.
The study group has been meeting consistently since last fall, due to the efforts of Iweala, who sought faculty support for Igbo studies.
Nwokocha said Iweala "is singularly responsible for getting this done."
Iweala has been working on this project since her first year at Harvard, when she discovered that the school did not offer classes in the subject.
In addition, Iweala said she was motivated by her experience in Nigeria last summer, where she worked at her father's medical clinic. With a firmer grasp of Igbo, she plans to study abroad in Nigeria next year.
In addition to teaching the Igbo class, Manfredi is a part-time linguistics instructor at Boston University.
He credits much of his interest in African studies to a leader of the African-American studies movement at Harvard during the 1970s.
Manfredi feels he owes "an enormous intellectual and personal debt" to the professor, who he said devoted an enormous amount of time to nurturing other scholars.
"That's why I'm crazy enough to teach this course for free," Manfredi said.
Manfredi notes that this Igbo class is "an experiment and we want it to succeed, so we're looking for that response to come."