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Africana studies department welcomes students from the University of Fort Hare

Emma Van Winkle
Mwatabu Okantah professor and chair, Department of Africana Studies at Kent State University giving a welcome message at the Heritage Ubuntu Student Fellowship welcome Ceremony on Nov. 30, 2023.

Kent State’s Africana studies department held a welcome ceremony Thursday morning for the delegation of students from the University of Fort Hare, a part of the Heritage Ubuntu Student Fellowship. 

Two years ago, the Heritage Ubuntu Student Fellowship was created to allow students from both Kent and the University of Fort Hare to study at each university and study various cultures, Felix Kumah-Abiwu, associate professor of Africana studies and director of the Center for African Studies, said.

The welcome ceremony started with opening remarks from Kumah-Abiwu, who quoted Nelson Mandela while welcoming the masters and doctoral students.

“[Mandela] said, ‘I greet you all in the name of peace, democracy and freedom for all,’” Kumah-Abiwu. “So I stand here to greet you all in the name of peace, democracy and freedom for all.”

Kumah-Abiwu said the grant provided through the fellowship is meant to promote the values mentioned in Mandela’s quote.

“Just as Mandela said, we need to have a bit of understanding of our democratic world,” Kumah-Abiwu said. “So, the grant is supposed to promote a better understanding of our democratic world here in the United States and also in South Africa.”

After Kumah-Abiwu recognized faculty and staff who made the grant possible, he said the grant was a manifestation of the Ubuntu principle. Ubuntu is a political philosophy practiced by Mandela which encourages community equality.

“The Ubuntu principle saying that humanity, in all of us… because we are… that person full of Ubuntu, that person full of that principle of looking at each other and seeing that humanity in us,” Kumah-Abiwu said.

One of the purposes of the program is for students to experience intercultural interactions, Kumah-Abiwu said.

“South Africa has enriched my own experience so much, just ask a student that I took to South Africa,” Kumah-Abiwu said. “That’s the purpose, for… interaction and then this… cultural exchange.” 

Mwatabu Okantah, department chair and professor of the Africana Studies department, gave a welcome message to the students.

He said it is an honor having the students present, as the diversity they offer is key to African-American students understanding their identities better.

“There is so much we can learn from each other and about each other,” Okantah said. “That’s what this experience is truly about so it’s an opportunity for us to talk to each other, to share stories with each other, to find out what we have in common.”

Following Okantah’s welcome, Adara Mickels, a senior international relations major, read an untitled poem she wrote.

“Today, a day will cherish and not forget / The histories that bring us together / As I said speak, hold your applause / Real dreams are here,” Mickels said.

Mandy Munro-Stasiuk, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, was next to speak and echoed a similar sentiment to Okantah as she said studying abroad and internationally allows for students to gain new perspectives and experiences.

“There’s so much for us to learn from these other countries in terms of the way that they work with each other, do business and all these different kinds of things,” Munro-Stasiuk said.

It is also important to continue to learn from others and their cultures, as it is important for people to remain lifelong learners, Munro-Stasiuk said.

Before concluding the welcome ceremony, Dr. Nomzamo Dube, academic coordinator for the University of Fort Hare, said she wanted to express her appreciation for the university.

“It’s really not easy to have… universities in two different continents to agree on something,” Dube said. 

Dube said she would do an injustice if she were to introduce the students from the University of Fort Hare, so she allowed each student to introduce themselves to attendees.

Following the students’ introduction, attendees of the event were welcomed to take pictures and stay for lunch to conclude the ceremony.

Adriana Gasiewski is a staff reporter. Contact her at [email protected]

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About the Contributors
Adriana Gasiewski, Staff Reporter
Adriana is a sophomore majoring in journalism with minors in Italian and creative writing. Before becoming a staff reporter, she was a general assignment reporter last semester. She enjoys writing about current events and issues that Kent students face. Adriana is a second-year member of Her Campus, where she serves as Philanthropy and Community Events Coordinator, and she is a member of the editorial team. Contact her at [email protected].
Emma Van Winkle, Photographer
Emma s a sophomore psychology major with a concentration in counseling careers and a minor in early intervention. She enjoys taking pictures, and her niche is sports – but she recently found a love for nature photography when she worked at a summer camp. Contact her at [email protected]

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