Valerie Lewis-Mosley '79 and Alfred "Alfie" Feliciano '81 (below) conceived of "AHANA" (African American, Hispanic, Asian, Native-American) as an alternative to the term "minority."
The Staying Power of 'AHANA'
Students' creation 25 years ago has become more than an acronym
By Reid Oslin
When two Boston College undergraduates coined an acronym 25 years ago for the University's fledging support program for students of color, they never envisioned how far-reaching their idea would be.
"AHANA" was introduced in the fall of 1979 through the efforts of Valerie Lewis-Mosley '79 and Alfred "Alfie" Feliciano '81, part of a student group whose members were strongly dissatisfied with the use of "minority" to describe persons of color.
A quarter-century later, AHANA - which stands for "African American-Hispanic-Asian-Native American" students - is not only a unique and inclusive program title, but has provided a name, or a derivative, for student coalition models by dozens of higher education institutions, including Boston, Seattle, Emory, Fairfield and Cleveland State universities, the University of Wisconsin and LeMoyne College.
"For the first couple of years, people thought 'AHANA' was probably just one of those trendy names and that it might some day fade away," said Prof. Kevin P. Duffy (LSOE), who was vice president for Student Affairs when the term was introduced. "Instead it has actually spread and caught on with other schools. It is pretty common nationally. I see it at other schools and at conference programs all the time."
Boston College trademarked AHANA in 1991 but generally grants permission for it to be used by other institutions.
Director of AHANA Student Programs Donald Brown, who joined the University in 1978 to direct what would shortly become the Office of AHANA Student Programs, said, "I am exceedingly proud of 'AHANA' today. Colleges and universities across the country use the term or a derivative - 'ALANA' [with the "L" for Latino]. I am very happy about that."
Far more importantly, Brown says, is the effect that the AHANA program has had on improving educational opportunities for students of color. "Students used to run away from our office because the term was once 'minority,'" he said. "But they have rallied around AHANA."
The origins of AHANA go back to the early 1970s when the University established the Black Talent Program to offer admission, academic and social support to students of color. When BC decided to reorganize the program and rename it the Minority Student Education Program in 1978, Duffy recalls, a number of students raised objections.
"What the students were objecting to was the use of the term 'minority,'" he said. "I remember kids saying, 'We may be the minority at Boston College, but we are not the minority in the world. We're not the minority in Africa and we are certainly not the minority in the neighborhood where I grew up.'"
Lewis-Mosley and Feliciano headed a group of fellow students seeking to develop a new program title, and initially came up with "AHAS" (African American-Hispanic-Asian Students). "That term could too readily be used as a mockery," recalled Lewis-Mosley recently, "like 'Aha!' We thought we probably would be just the butt of someone's jokes.
"At about that same time, we realized that we had not identified another very fragile population of students of color, the Native Americans," said Lewis-Mosley, a graduate of the Connell School of Nursing who recently was accepted into the Health Law Policy Program for a Masters of Science in Jurisprudence at Seton Hall University Law School. "Ironically, I have a large Native American background in my own family - three of my four grandparents were Native Americans. We added that and it became 'AHANA.'"
Feliciano, who graduated with a degree in economics and is now a principal with Wilson Arms Sporting Goods in Florida, was active in Undergraduate Government of Boston College affairs and the natural choice to present the new acronym to the University's Board of Trustees in the fall of 1979, Lewis-Mosley said. "AHANA" was unanimously accepted.
"The basic position of the administration was that if students wished to be called 'AHANA' students instead of 'minority' students, you should call a person the way they would like to be addressed," Duffy said. "I don't recall any opposition from the administration."
Brown says one of the most significant accomplishments of the program is the University's high retention rate for students of color. "When I first came to Boston College, the retention rate - for largely black and Latino students - was something like 17 percent," he said. "Now the retention rate for AHANA students at BC is not vastly different from white students. The retention rate for white students is about 87 percent; for AHANA students it is 84 percent and going higher."
Brown says the success of the AHANA program lies in its inclusiveness. "Dr. Martin Luther King talked to us about the need for people of good will coming together," Brown said, "and the need to launch coalitions.
"What Alfred and Valerie talked about back then was the need for blacks, Latinos, Asians, Native Americans and progressive whites coming together. That's what undergirds this AHANA concept."