Black Students’ Association brings Kente Stole to STU

    Black students at St. Thomas University can now wear the Kente Stole during graduation ceremonies. (Submitted: Sydona Chandon/Work of Art Photography)

    A new tradition is coming to St. Thomas University’s convocation ceremony — the Kente Stole.

    The woven cloth originates from a tradition in Ghana, started by the pan-African movement. It was once worn by royalty, but now it is worn across the world by Black students graduating or celebrating other big accomplishments.

    The addition of the Stole is led by Kryssonia Wedderburn, the president of the Black Students’ Association at STU. A while back, she was chatting with a friend from Kenya about how the Kente Stole, a traditional rite-of-passage in Africa, is not used at STU.

    “[My friend] is so used to embracing her African culture back home and where we’re from predominantly Black places we did not have to hide that uniqueness and diversity to always be represented and included,” said Wedderburn.

    Wedderburn, who is from Jamaica, will be wearing the Kente Stole at her graduation this May.

    She heard from students who are excited to walk across the stage wearing the Stole at the in-person spring convocation.

    “It is pride in their home country and pride in the work that they’ve done,” she said.

    The Kente Stole represents strength, or withstanding the odds, which Wedderburn said represents the obstacles Black students face when applying to university and completing their degree.

    “There should definitely be a representation of that struggle for them,” she said.

    Wedderburn said the Stole is not just a cloth. Every colour has a meaning – red for passion, gold for status and serenity, black for spiritual awareness, blue for harmony and a pure spirit, green for renewal and yellow for fertility.

    The Stole the BSA chose includes two golden stools, which represent royalty in Ghana. Wedderburn said this is the most important part for her because it represents excellence, whether that be academically, emotionally or in all facets of life.

    “When I look at the Stole and I see each colour, it speaks to the strength of myself, it speaks to the strength of my parents,” said Wedderburn.

    The Stole is also a recognition for the diversity that Black students bring to the university.

    “My ancestors went through this, my parents went through this to get me here, I went through this — so it is a representation of that unique struggle,” she said.

    Before school started, the push to get the Kente Stole to STU’s convocation was already in the works.

    Wedderburn reached out to Ashlen Albright, the director of marketing at STU, last summer to tell her about the idea. With the communications team’s help, she wrote a proposal to the president of the university, Dawn Russell.

    STU faculty approved the Stole at a meeting in the summer and said they would incorporate a ceremony as well. The ceremony for the Stole is still in the works.

    “I wasn’t met with any objections at all,” said Wedderburn. “So we pretty much hit the ground running.”

    David Eno is another student who is wearing the Stole at graduation. Eno is Nigerian and said that for Black people, especially those who live in the diaspora, the Stole is a way for them to connect to their African heritage. 

    “It is easy to ignore things about back home while you’re trying to adjust to your new surroundings and [the Stole] is a way to remind me of where I come from and all the challenges that I’ve been able to overcome to get to where I am,” he said.

    It reminds him to centre African voices and advocate for them whenever possible. Eno said the Stole is important for Black students and will make them feel more connected. 

    “I’m out here to become somebody so that I can do things for my people. And this also serves as a reminder,” he said.

    Eno called the inclusion of the Stole a good step forward for the university. He said it shows STU is listening to the concerns of international students. 

    “Although it’s a small change, it shows that STU is heading in the right direction to implement these kinds of changes that lead to more diversity and inclusion on campus.”