Kwensi Yankah: Indiana celebrates Quincy

Quincy, not Kwesi, was my name at Indiana University more than 40 years ago. No questions are asked about how the Sunday-born ‘Yankah’ changed the Kwesi from him to Quincy. But that was Ghana in Indiana 1980. Last Monday, Indiana woke me up reminding me of the footprints I left and that successive IU presidents have come to experience as an integral part of Indiana’s heritage.

I was 30 years old when I arrived in Indiana in pursuit of a PhD, and on my first day I was followed by a nightmare from New York’s JFK Airport to LaGuardia Airport. As Johnny recently arrived in the United States, I was scammed by a taxi driver and his colleague, who told me through gritted teeth that the trip cost $350 and that I should pay it in my own interest. Cheated, I arrived crying in Bloomington, my destination, and spent my first two weeks at the University living off the benevolence of a Ghanaian community led by Kofi Anyidoho; these sustained me until my sponsors referred me. Five and a half years later I left Indiana smiling. The city of Bloomington had wiped away my tears. The good news came hard shortly after returning to Ghana. IU had selected the crying boy’s doctoral work as Thesis of the Year 1985! The first by an African!! The story remains a milestone in the University’s history.

That unexpected breakthrough was based on my work titled “The Proverb in the Context of Akan Rhetoric.” This humble achievement made Indiana my gateway to the world, giving me later access to renowned universities in the United States and Europe: Stanford, which almost poached me in 1989; Northwestern, University of Pennsylvania, University of Michigan, UC Berkeley, University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom, etc. My humble research work and its sequel were on indigenous rhetoric and the ethnography of communication. The need to move abroad was great, but I stayed on my land: the University of Ghana, my alpha and omega.

Unbeknownst to me, Indiana was tracking my progress every step of the way. In 2020, when the American Academy of Arts and Sciences elected me an international honorary member, the then president of IU was quick to send me a few words of congratulations, shortly after receiving congratulations from the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences, which elected me. as a fellow in 1997. Last Monday, Indiana walked up to my door in Ghana touting an honor that the University’s new president, Pamela Whitten, has bestowed on Kwesi Yankah for academic excellence, which has accelerated Ghana’s selection as the Indiana University’s gateway to Africa.

The grand ceremony jointly organized by Indiana University and the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences was attended by academicians, traditional leaders, religious leaders, IU alumni in Ghana, civil society, IGP, visiting IU students, as well as the interim vice president of Indiana University. of International Affairs, Hilary Khan. Let me quote below the words of IU President Michael McRobbie as he celebrates my election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2020:

‘His election to AAAS recognizes the renown of his teaching, research, and scholarship in communications ethnography, as well as his numerous achievements in higher education administration throughout his impressive career. Of course, we are equally proud of all that he is doing in Ghana to promote education through his role as Minister of State in charge of tertiary education, as well as the various ways in which he is using his prominent voice in the promotion of democratic norms there. Indeed, his exemplary efforts continue to serve as an inspiration to all of us and we are pleased to include him among our most outstanding alumni.”


Michael McRobbie

Long live Ghana, long live Indiana University.

[email protected]

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