According to Student Government’s mission statement, this acting body “allocates funds to student groups and organizations and do so in the best interest of the student body.” Their recent decision to deny the request of the Association of Black Collegians and the Hispanic Society at Lafayette to fund the purchase of kente stoles for graduating seniors disregards this aforementioned mission.
Assistant Dean Madrid described these stoles in an email as “dat[ing] back to 12th century Africa, in the country of Ghana and the Ashanti people. Worn by kings, queens and important state figures in Ghana’s society during ceremonial events and special occasions,” kente stoles are a recognition “that combines students rich cultural heritage to the celebration of educational achievements.” It’s a celebration of the members of the Black diaspora, who for many years were denied access to education through colonialism, slavery and racism.
The significance of kente stoles are particularly important when considering the positionally of Black and Latinx students in higher education, especially on Lafayette’s campus. According to the website Insider Higher Education, while White and Asian students in the United States graduate from college at a rate of 62 and 63.2 percent respectively, Black and Latinx students graduate at a rate of 45.8 percent and 38 percent respectively.
Lafayette has a long history of racism and marginalization. The first Black student to attend Lafayette was David K. McDonough in 1838. After McDonough’s graduation in 1844, no other Black student attended Lafayette for about 100 years. Today, Black and Latinx students make up 11 percent of the student body, tasked with the difficult mission of navigating this predominately white campus.
Student government’s rationale to deny funding the stoles was that they are “gifts,” which Student Government doesn’t fund. However, a kente stole is not a gift, but a recognition of the obstacles and challenges that we, as people of color, have had to uniquely face to acquire a formal education. We live in a post-colonial society where the entrenchment of white supremacy remains. Kente stoles represent the achievements of students despite this inequity. To reduce the significance of kente stoles to a “gift” represents a missed crucial opportunity to affirm and support the position of students of color on Lafayette’s campus.
Despite Student Government’s failure to honor their historical commitment to fund the kente stoles, we appreciate the initiative of Vice President of Campus Life Annette Diorio to fund the kente stoles this year. Next year, the McDonogh Network, who presents the stoles to graduating seniors, will have the challenge of finding an alternative source of funding for the kente stoles, upholding the celebration of the resilience of communities historically barred from education. We hope that Student Government, as an organization that claims to fund “in the best interest of the student body,” reevaluates its decisions and considers the ways in which they can act more inclusively and be more aware of the student population.
By Fayola Fair ’19 (member of the Association of Black Collegians) and Ayleen Correa ’19 (member of the Hispanic Society at Lafayette)