French Club and outreach to Francophone Africa

Hope Reveche

Mar 18, 2024

Language is one of the forms of diversity that characterizes the Carnegie Mellon University Africa community, with a majority of students drawn from English-speaking (Anglophone) Africa, and those from French-speaking (Francophone) Africa.

When Junior Rutamu (MSIT '24) started at CMU-Africa, he joined the French Club with a vision to transform it by engaging with students from Francophone African countries. According to the World Health Organization, 21 out of the 54 African countries have French as their official language, with different regions adopting various accents, vocabularies, and pronunciations as a result of a blend with the local dialects.

Rutamu, who completed his secondary and undergraduate schooling in French, used both his background and innovative ideas to be elected as president of the French Club for the 2022-23 school year.

One of his main goals as president was to increase membership and activity, hoping to not only engage with French-speaking students but also attract other students interested in learning the French language and about Afro-French culture. After restructuring the club’s leadership committee to include both a recruitment and marketing chair, the numbers grew from 18 members to 56 in a student community of just over 300.

Another massive accomplishment for Rutamu and the club was celebrating Francophonie Week, an international annual event that celebrates the diversity of the French language and its speakers, for the first time. 

"It was a community event that was collaborative in nature," says Nancy Biwott, associate director of diversity and inclusion at CMU-Africa. "The whole week, the club hosted different events like a French movie screening, sharing French-inspired meals and a panel session to showcase the different cultures in Francophone Africa, with everyone invited to join. The goal was to try to better understand and appreciate our diversity and to strengthen our community."

Biwott's role also supports other underserved groups at CMU-Africa including women, refugees and internally displaced persons, and persons with disabilities. "For a long time, higher education initiatives would leave behind large numbers of people because we were only moving with people who were able to move with us. From my personal perspective, you can’t really make a transformative impact without having that eye on inclusion of all groups," she says.

Although Rutamu's presidency ended, he hopes that future students will find the time in their busy schedules to join clubs and stresses the importance of belonging to a group. "It's an engineering school, a master’s program. People are busy. But it'd be nice if we could allocate more time to clubs," Rutamu says. "When we join the university, we all come from different backgrounds and have different talents, so it’s very important to give back to the community when you really know something."

CMU-Africa actively encourages eligible students from different countries to apply for transformational graduate study. Learn more.