Our first Kente Ceremony



Okay, it wasn’t quite a “ceremony” this year. But, next year, we will certainly make it bigger and better! I was just testing out the waters to see who would be into it (and how well it would be received).

In my past few years at the college, I haven’t seen any students of color wearing traditional Kente stoles over their graduation robes. I have seen it at the other 5 colleges/universities where I have worked, but never at Stonehill. So, I figured I would test the waters and see how it would go.

I initially put out the invitation to over 40 students of color – only 6 got back to me and said, “yes”. So, I ordered 12 thinking MAYBE we would hand out a few more.

As it goes, I handed the 6 out at graduation, and then students of color started to come over and ask if they could wear one. I know next year’s class is more “identity active” and will certainly do a more formal ceremony for them.

Why a Kente ceremony? There are a number of reasons for doing a Kente ceremony at a college. Most notable is that students of color, for whatever reasons, have a lower graduation rate than white students – especially at a predominantly white college. The kente ceremony honors their achievement, endurance, and commitment to their futures above the obstacles they have faced in obtaining their degree. Traditionally, the kente is worn a ceremonies and is reserved for such occasions.

Brief history
The Kente cloth originates from Ghana, West Africa. It is a visual representation of history, values, beliefs and social code of conduct. Each Kente pattern is significant and unique. The stoles that our graduates wore today had red, gold, green and black colors along with a “key” and an “asante stool.” Here is the description of their meaning:
Red: signifies the blood shed by our ancestors in their struggles and sacrifices
Gold: symbolizes wealth; originally representing the gold of Africa
Green: symbolizes growth and life
Black: symbolizes maturity, intensity, and spiritual maturity
Key: represents education as being the key to success
Stool: Leadership

The stoles were offered to all students of color (ALANA) as well as allies. As all civilization began in Africa, and the struggles our students of color face are common between all ALANA populations, it was great to see this symbol of unity in this group.

I am so proud of all the graduates, specifically the students of color!

 

WHO GETS TO DECIDE?

For a while now, I’ve been struggling with people thinking that they decide what to call other people. For example,

1. Who gets to decide who is an “ally?”
2. Who gets to decide what people should be called when referring to ethnicity?
3. Who gets to decide when one has moved from a stage of identity to another?

ALLY
I find that people like to refer to themselves as “allies.” In my circle of work, I’ve heard people call themselves “allies to the gay community” or “allies to people of color” or “allies to women”, etc. Yet, when called to task, do these “allies” engage in the political dialogue and empowerment of the community, or do they just like posting the rainbow sticker?

In the ally development circle, one must actually be deemed an ally by the target group. I’m not talking about some formal ceremony nor a sword on the shoulder nor a crowning opportunity. Rather, I’m talking about the members of that target group actually identifying the person as someone who is “down for the cause!” Someone who not only speaks the same political language but who also walks the political journey.

SO, WHAT SHOULD I CALL YOU?
“Oriental.” “Black.” “African American.” “Hispanic.” “Latino.” “I don’t know what to call them!!” I hear this all the time. Frustrated individuals who want to be politically correct but who are annoyed by the effort they need to make to realize that not everyone wants to be referred in the same way. When I encounter people who are so frustrated by this, I always bring up the ‘common name’ example. I say, take the name “Elizabeth.” I have friends who want to be called “Elizabeth.” I have friends who want to be called “Beth. Eliza. Liz. Betsy. and, gasp, Elizabeth.” Then, there is me. Liza. I am not an Elizabeth, yet everyone tries to sound formal with me and will say, “Elizabeth Talusan!” I never answer. “Elizabeth” isn’t my name. I’ve never answered to it. Yet, when we meet an “Elizabeth,” we are quick to make the adjustment to what she wants to be called. And, we would never think to say, “This is too difficult. I’m just going to call everyone ‘Elizabeth.'”

That’s the same issue for me with the identity piece. There are some Caribbean Americans who do not want to be called African Americans. There are some African Americans would be offended if you called them Black. Similarly with Hispanic and Latino. While there are political reasons (and geographic ones) for calling one Hispanic vs Latino, the point is that it’s NOT UP TO ME. It’s up to the person to deem what he/she would like to be called.

Tied to this complexity is the the piece of race vs ethnicity. I have a student who has dark, dark brown skin (and hence, often identified by others as an African American woman) but who is Latina. And, while most will likely refer to her as Black – she corrects them with, “I’m Latina.” You go, girl!

WHO GETS TO DECIDE WHEN ONE MOVES FROM ONE IDENTITY TO ANOTHER?
Back in 2005, my daughter was diagnosed with cancer. She went through her fair share of cancer treatment and an enucleation of her right eye. Depending on the situation and conversation, I sometimes refer to my daughter as a “cancer survivor” and sometimes I refer to her as “having cancer.” Here’s what gets me…. when I choose to use the words “having cancer”, people are extremely quick to correct me and say, “No, she HAD cancer.” The conversation ends there. I glare and change the subject – too furious to continue.

If I’m her mom, and I’m chosing to use the words, “she has cancer”, then no one should correct me — especially when people haven’t had to go through what our family went through. And, especially because we are still completely bogged down with doctors appointments 2 years post treatment. With the loss of her eye, we are reminded, physically, every day, of her battle that still has not ended, in many ways.

I’ve found that these conversations have happened frequently in the past few weeks. I go back to teachings of power and privilege and ways in which we often do not recognize ways in which we impose our power and privilege (and, I’m likely using it now as I have the “power and privilege of blogging”).

Food for thought…..

Empire Strikes Barack – genius

It is no secret that the I am a supporter of Barack Obama….. It is also no secret that I love pop culture. It is a secret that, one day, when accompanying my husband to a comic book shop, some random guy came up to me and said, “Excuse me. I think you’re prettier than Princess Leia.” (I grabbed Jorge and ran out the door vowing to never go back to a comic book shop again!)

That began my obsession with all things Star Wars.

Thanks to the genius minds of whoever created this video.

Intern Extraordinaire


Just wanted to give a huge shout out to “The Intern” – Jade Franco.

This past semester, Jade has been putting in 8+ hours a week in the office researching issues around recruitment, retention and affirmative action at a predominantly white college. She has been doing an insane amount of research, studying up on conservative and liberal cases, and absolutely expanding her knowledge base around issues of diversity, institutionalized racism and identity. Jade has fully thrown herself into the diversity ring – seen the best of times and worst of times. And, she has managed to survive staying in an office with me!

So, big shouts to Jade for doing an amazing job this semester! She was the very first undergraduate intern and paved the way for the rest to come! Everyone has big shoes to fill, and I can’t find the words to thank Ms. Jade enough!

Congratulations, Jade, on all your hard work here at Stonehill! We’ll miss you!!