Two years ago, when Yetunde Fatunde moved from Nigeria to attend UCI, she was asked questions that, at times, made her wince. Did she live in the wild? Did she hunt animals for breakfast?
“All they knew of Africa was what they saw on Discovery Channel and National Geographic specials,” she says. “They were surprised I lived in a house in a city with tall buildings.”
Fatunde, a biological sciences major, has set out to educate both campus and community about Africa.
“Sometimes when I hear their questions I have to force myself to be patient. I might be the only person from Africa they’ve come across, so it’s important for me to talk to them.”
Fatunde speaks about Africa as a board member and outreach coordinator of UCI’s Afrikan Student Union, which provides a venue for African American students to share their concerns and seeks to enlighten students through programs like Afrikan Consciousness Quarter 2007, featuring weekly educational and social events.
Fatunde also is director of community service for the UCI chapter of MAPS – Minorities Association of Pre-Health Students – which helps undergraduates enter the medical field. Each spring, the group invites minority students from Southern California high schools to campus to encourage them to attend college.
“We call it ‘Shadow Day’ because they shadow us around campus,” she says.
Last month, she served as co-chair of the Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium march and rally, volunteering at a food bank with other students as part of the symposium’s community service day.
“Without Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders who have opened doors for others, no matter where they’re from, I wouldn’t be here. Now I want to do this for others. I want to educate African Americans about the importance of attending college.”
Fatunde’s interest in the civil rights movement has prompted her to take classes in UCI’s African American Studies program.
“In Africa, they teach you about Africans – but not African Americans,” she says.
While pursuing her interest in community service, she’s also carrying her heavy pre-med course load; she hopes to become a pediatrician, like her mother, who lives in Corona.
“I’m thinking of going back to Nigeria after I become a doctor to help the people who helped me when I was growing up,” Fatunde says. “Eventually, I want to help out the African community worldwide.”