Survival Guide Expands AFAM Community
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced every community to grapple with the challenge of staying connected in the absence of in-person gatherings. In a recent conversation, Meredith McDuffie, BU alum (CAS ‘20) and current African American Studies Program media assistant, discussed how addressing this challenge yielded the AFAM Survival Guide, a bi-monthly newsletter that describes itself as “a collection of recipes & music that comforts us, articles that fuel us, and art that makes us question.” Not only has this publication proved popular among existing members of the AFAM community, but, much to McDuffie’s surprise, it has also extended the reach of the AFAM community during this time when community members are far apart.
In March 2020, as establishments shut down and AFAM events were cancelled one by one, it gradually sank in for McDuffie that they and their peers would neither return to campus nor to any sort of status quo. At the time, they had been working for the AFAM program as a media assistant for almost a year and were already familiar with the kinds of content the program produces. In their capacity as media assistant, they began meditating on the challenge of how, as they put it, to “get content and information to the community in a way that engages and connects” in the midst of a global pandemic. Their solution? The first issue of the publication now known as the AFAM Survival Guide.
One thing that makes the AFAM Survival Guide unique among campus publications is its collaborative nature, with contributions by people who play varied roles in a community. While the Survival Guide began as a student-led initiative, McDuffie notes that faculty and staff involvement, particularly the support of AFAM director, Professor Louis Chude-Sokei, has been critical to its evolution and success. For example, though practical considerations originally guided McDuffie’s curation process, Professor Chude-Sokei encouraged McDuffie to seek out more content with an academic bent. This kind of content remains central to the publication in its second volume. A wider range of questions now guides McDuffie’s selection of content: “What have I read in class that’s available online?”; “What can I find through Mugar?”; “What’s something that people really aren’t already talking about?” “What’s something that’s engaging and stimulating and different?”; “Will it fit on the page?”; “Can I link to it?”; “Is it accessible for most people?” This blend of intellectual and practical considerations reflects the expanding scope and reach of the publication.
In a note introducing the second volume of the Survival Guide, Professor Louis Chude-Sokei writes, “We didn’t expect the impact it would have throughout the BU social world, from AFAM-related individuals to faculty, staff and even administration and alumni.” McDuffie shares Chude-Sokei’s surprise: “Originally, we just stuck with our general base and alumni, and then people just sort of kept sharing it, and it kept picking up traction. . . . I never expected it to take off beyond the people who already subscribe to our newsletter,” McDuffie said, later adding,“The fact that so many people have paid attention to it, have picked up on it, has just increased the audience and the people that we want it to reach as well.” Professor Chude-Sokei also noted how the evolution of the publication, including the transition from the title Quarantine Newsletter to Survival Guide, was partially motivated by the many unanticipated positive responses that it received: “These responses came just as our program began a period of deep introspection due to the pandemic, and made clear how necessary was a regular, public, voice/statement from the BU African American Studies Program. . . And so, behold: The Pandemic Survival Guide has now been rebirthed as the Survival Guide, because though the pandemic continues, Black cultural survival pre- and post-dates Covid-19 and all those other diseases it helped expose.”
Now that the publication is reaching more people than anticipated, one of McDuffie’s major goals is to increase the extent to which the publication is driven by content submissions. McDuffie and their student colleagues are eager to engage an increasing number of students, student organizations, alumni, and departments, and they want readers to know that the Survival Guide staff is willing to find a place for all submissions. “It really is about that community aspect, about engaging people, about giving people access to new and interesting stuff,” says McDuffie.
When asked about the future of the publication, McDuffie said that they hope it will become a fixture of the AFAM program: “I’d like it to become a permanent part of the program if possible, because it seems to be so well received, and I like that the program has another avenue of engagement. . . . I’m really hoping that this is something that can continue to grow and evolve, and I’m hoping that there are people who will want to take it up after I’m gone.”
As for McDuffie, the future will likely involve law school. McDuffie recently moved to California to begin a new job as a legal assistant. “I grew up with two lawyers for parents, and I was on the debate team in high school, so law has just sort of felt like something I was naturally gravitating towards,” they said. In the meantime, they will also continue their part-time position as AFAM media assistant. McDuffie credits their current career trajectory to their experiences as an English major at BU : “What I really appreciated from my time at BU and the classes that I took is that they helped my analytical thinking; they really pushed me to appreciate that analytical process, which I think is really crucial to a lot of areas of law.”
The most recent issue of the AFAM Survival Guide was published on Thursday, January 14. It includes pieces featuring Sci-fi films in Nigeria, a collection at the Museum of African American Art, AFAM faculty member Saida Grundy, and several alumni working in the entertainment industry. As expected, this issue achieves the publication’s characteristic balance of popular and academic material that makes it both fun and thought provoking. Although McDuffie originally created the AFAM Survival Guide to meet the needs of a specific moment, they believe that, going forward, the publication will greatly be shaped by community content submissions. They offer this call to action:“Please send us anything and everything that you’ve read, or looked at, or watched, or listened to. We’d love to get more people involved, feature them, and figure out how they can be a part of this.”
If you would like to submit content to be included in a future issue, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.