The Voice of Bates College Since 1873

The Bates Student

The Voice of Bates College Since 1873

The Bates Student

The Voice of Bates College Since 1873

The Bates Student

A Seat at the Table: Sankofa Sparks Reflection and Discussion

Carly Philpott
Fiki Hunt ’24 of New York City, flanked by Leila Walker ’24 of New York City and Fred Javier ’27 of the Bronx, speaks from the stage of the Olin Concert Hall during the Sankofa discussion.

‘Sankofa’ loosely translates to “go back and get it”, and originates from the Twi word of the Akan Tribe of Ghana. The word is suitable for describing the work done by attendees of Bates’ MLK Jr. Day workshops. On January 15, 2024, students and faculty alike examined past social and racial justice advocacy as a modern launching point for difficult conversations around equity. 

To close the 2024 Bates MLK Jr. Day Observance, students gathered in the Olin Arts Center at 7:30 p.m. to attend “Sankofa,” a panel discussion led by James Reese, the associate dean for international student programs, in collaboration with Bates’ Black Student Union (BSU). Under the warm glow of the concert hall, students listened to a panel discussion led by BSU members. Reese facilitated the conversation, welcoming audience contributions that allowed students, faculty, and staff to share their diverse cultural experiences and to answer the same prompts given to the panelists.

Dressed in a black suit and garnet button down, Reese began by describing the origins of ‘Sankofa’ and its purpose to “organize a group of students to have a discussion about their experience on campus and their life [in college].” He highlighted the importance of having discussions about race and culture which, when intertwined, shape different experiences for students in the same environment. 

After introducing the event, Reese prompted both the audience and the nine panelists: “Give an example to a friend when you’ve noticed a difference in musical taste or food taste that was surprising.”

Audience members engaged in discussion followed by a conversation among panelists. One participant mentioned how in his Sophomore year, his friend introduced him to country music, contrasting his primary preference for rap music. A first-year panelist described his introduction to afrobeats saying that “it’s one of the main cultural differences since coming to Bates.” 

Attendee, Jen McKay ’26, also recounts a difference in musical taste at Bates: “It was actually quite a shock to me coming to Bates. All of my friends listened to country music and I mainly listened to rap, pop and throwbacks. It was interesting to see how people of different countries and states grew up with different musical tastes or genres.”

The next question had participants discuss how their upbringing influences their present experiences at college. One panelist described their East African family’s emphasis on hospitality, even with neighbors. They went on to explain how they had to learn to separate food from deeper hospitality implications, particularly when friends refused to eat the food they offered. 

“Eating is like a love language,” stated another panelist, describing the adjustment they had to make when eating in Commons. The panelist revealed that growing up, they were used to eating all on one plate and savoring their food. They noted the “difference in how people consume their food and enjoy what’s on their plate.”

To conclude the event, Reese invited attendees and panelists to name a quote that they found motivational. After a brief period of free discussion with neighbors, people began to share aloud to the group through two microphones passed around by volunteers working the event. Quotes ranged anywhere from “an institution doesn’t emancipate you, it gives you the tools to emancipate yourself” to “Hakuna matata.” Sayings from Aretha Franklin, Vincent Van Gogh, Emily Dickinson, and the Dalai Lama also enlightened the crowd. 

During Sankofa, students were able to “go back and get it” through open dialogue and active participation, learning from the past in order to explain the present and inform the future. 

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About the Contributor
Zoe Schaedle, Managing News Editor
Zoe is a Sophomore from Philadelphia, PA. She is currently undecided, but is leaning towards a double major in History and Classical and Medieval Studies. In her free time, Zoe enjoys spending time with family and friends, reading, volunteering, going to the beach, cooking, or playing/watching sports.    Previously, Zoe served as a staff writer for The Student as a first year. She is also on the Bates Women’s Lacrosse team, and is an active mentor for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Maine.

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