Pan African Studies picnic celebrates upcoming year of diversity

Junior+early+child+education+major+Alexis+Pastor+talks+to+a+group+of+students+about+Zeta+Phi+Beta%2C+during+a+welcome+back+picnic+outside+of+Oscar+Ritchie+Hall%2C+on+Friday.+Photo+by+Coty+Giannelli.

Junior early child education major Alexis Pastor talks to a group of students about Zeta Phi Beta, during a welcome back picnic outside of Oscar Ritchie Hall, on Friday. Photo by Coty Giannelli.

Madeleine Winer

Students, faculty and staff of all ethnicities gathered behind Oscar Ritchie Hall Friday for the annual back-to-school tradition hosted by the Department of Pan-African Studies.

Each year, the picnic attracts 500 students in an effort to introduce the AALANA population — African American, Latino American and Native American students — to the Kent community. Traci Williams, instructor and director of the Center of Pan-African Culture, said the event is a great networking opportunity for freshmen and upperclassmen to meet faculty and staff from all departments.

“The Kent community comes out and we have a lot of fun,” Williams said. “It’s a way for the students to connect on another level before they actually see us [faculty] in class.”

Dr. Amoaba Gooden, interim chair of Pan-African Studies, said that the department’s rich history comes alive at the picnic.

“I think our department is unique in that it has as its model intellectual excellence but also social responsibility,” Gooden said. “It’s a way of recognizing the diversity that is Kent State.”

Students from Black United Students and Greek organizations such as Sigma Gamma Rho, Kappa Alpha Psi and Delta Sigma Theta were in attendance. Sierra Solomon, vice president of BUS and Delta Sigma Theta, Epsilon Mu chapter, said she likes how the event brings all ethnicities and organizations together.

“It gives us a chance to socialize and network with the incoming freshmen and allows the students to get to know Oscar Ritchie,” Solomon, junior political science and Pan-African studies major, said. “A lot of people don’t know about the resources Pan-African Studies and Black United Students have to offer.”

Attendees enjoyed food provided by Kent State Dining Services. Josh Reynolds — DJ J Mixx from Lo-Key Entertainment — served as disc jockey.

Kelven Spriggs, a freshman, said he came to the picnic to meet others interested in Pan-African studies.

“The department is very influential to minorities on campus because there [are] not that many of us,” Spriggs said. “It is a great way to introduce us to those who are also minorities.”

Jasmine Wallace, a freshman, not only liked the food but also the people she has met at the picnic.

“It’s a cool way for people to meet each other,” Wallace said. “I like the diversity of the campus, and, for me, it’s close to home.”

Administrators also showed their support for the AALANA population. Timothy Chandler, senior associate provost and interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and Provost Todd Diacon mingled in the crowd.

“It’s important for students to feel like they have a home and that there are people like them around the campus,” Diacon said. “These kinds of events reinforce the idea that you can have these smaller communities within a larger university.”

Contact Madeleine Winer at [email protected].