Kente stoles are being sold in the SUPe Store for the first time in UA history. This graduation regalia holds cultural significance for many Black students, and some members of the campus community say its presence in the campus bookstore is a big step for diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.
Originating in Ghana in almost the 11th century and popularized in the U.S. in the 1950s with the Pan-African movement, kente cloths have come to represent the success of Black students in an educational system that was not built to their advantage.
Since May 2016, kente stoles have been sold on campus through the Black Faculty and Staff Association (BFSA). To make the stoles more accessible to students, BFSA began working with the SUPe Store last December.
SUPe Store Director Bernadette Chavira-Trull said it made sense for the store to sell kente stoles since it sells all other graduation accessories. A portion of sales will go toward BFSA’s Annual Support Fund which supports scholarships and operating expenses.
Kente stoles have had a presence on college campuses for about 50 years, but weren’t sold on the University’s campus until 2016 when Fallan Frank and Fred Horn II, two students at the time, and Gretchen Moore, a UA employee, partnered with BFSA.
They found a vendor in Ghana called African Imports. Through their partnership with BFSA, they placed an initial order for stoles in May 2016.
Soon after placing their first order with African Imports, they started planning UA’s first Nyansapo kente robing ceremony to promote retention among students of color and to celebrate their accomplishments, according to the BFSA website.
Although any student on UA’s campus can attend, the event celebrates the significance of graduating from a primarily white institution as a student of color. Cassandra Simon, Frank’s mother and an associate professor in the School of Social Work, said the ceremony celebrates the achievements of Black students today.
“You came into an environment that was not made for you, and you thrived,” Simon said.
To maintain the authenticity and cultural significance of the stoles, BFSA President Chad Jackson said the SUPe Store will continue its partnership with the vendor in Ghana.
“Having it in the SUPe Store gives it better visibility for actual students than BFSA’s reach,” Jackson said. “When graduating students went to the SUPe Store, we wanted to make sure that they saw some heritage, agency and identity.”
Chavira-Trull said the first purchase was a significant moment for both the SUPe Store and the customer. The sale made the SUPe Store a leader in its field.
“I have received inquiries asking where we obtained that stole, and it is with great pleasure that I get to say that it is authentically made by an African-owned company,” Chavira-Trull said. “So I can share that information with our industry peers throughout the country.”
Chavira-Trull said Latino groups on campus have since reached out to find Latin vendors to create a stole that represents their culture and experiences.
Courtney Ring, president of the Black Student Union, said she believes the kente stoles’ presence in the Supe Store is allowing more students of color the opportunity to connect with their heritage and feel celebrated
“One of the important things that it expresses is that it doesn’t matter where you come from, because when you wear that kente stole it reflects where you are currently,” Ring said.
The SUPe Store is selling the kente stoles for $30 plus shipping and tax, the same price formerly offered by BFSA.
“BFSA has done a great job over the years at supporting us,” Ring said. “It’s a great step, and we really couldn’t have done it without the Black Faculty and Staff Association.”