Kent State Graduate Student Studies Abroad in South Africa

Alicia Marchand, a student in the Master of Public Administration program with a graduate minor in Race, Gender, and Social Justice in the Department of Africana Studies, participated in the Faculty-Led: Heritage Ubuntu Student Project education abroad program in South Africa this summer.

This education abroad program was the first travel component of an ongoing collaboration between Kent State University and the University of Fort Hare in South Africa. The collaboration is grant funded by the U.S. Embassy in South Africa and led by Dr. Felix Kumah-Abiwu of Kent State University and Dr. Nomzamo Dube of the University of Fort Hare. The students and faculty from both institutions met virtually throughout the academic year to study the Apartheid system in South Africa and Jim Crow laws in the United States, as well as to complete group research projects on social justice issues. The University of Fort Hare students will soon travel to Kent State in the Fall semester. 

Marchand first learned about the program when she added her graduate minor in Race, Gender, and Social Justice in the Department of Africana Studies and met Dr. Felix Kumah-Abiwu, an Associate Professor in the Department of Africana Studies and the faculty leader of the Heritage Ubuntu Student Project. She found that the program would fit perfectly into her studies and applied immediately, hoping it would be the opportunity of a lifetime.

Kent State students and faculty outside of the Nelson Mandela Museum.

A Life Changing Experience

Marchand’s hopes were quickly realized, and the travel portion of the program afforded many opportunities for learning and the growth she couldn’t gain in the United States. “The sort of culture shock, the impact of being exposed… to that society changed me in ways that I can never unsee, I can never go back from. The emotional impact of being there was profound.”

This was due in large part to the experience of seeing first-hand the interplay between cultural heritage, historical connections to the land, modern society, and consumerism. Marchand was particularly struck by the greater value placed on history and culture in the communities she visited. “It just really made me sad about life in the United States… Those sort of realizations, it was just life changing to be able to experience that on an in-person level, even if it was just for two weeks.”

Another impactful moment for Marchand came when she attended the Africa Day celebration at the University of Fort Hare. The way the students and university community expressed their joy, pride, culture, and diversity in the celebration of their African heritage was exciting. Witnessing the Africa Day celebration really “changed me, it changed the way I think about things.”

Kent State students and faculty gathered around the sign for the Nelson R. Mandela School of Law dressed up for Africa Day at the University of Fort Hare.

Exploring the Parallels

Marchand also loved the opportunity she got to tour the archives and museum at the University of Fort Hare with museum staff and the South African students. The museum has important historical documents and other artifacts of the African National Congress (ANC) which covered the liberation movement from the 1920s to the end of the Apartheid regime in 1994. Marchand noted the housing of these historical documents of the ANC at the University of Fort Hare is like “housing the history and spirit of the country.”

The museum also has many collections of the history of student activism at the University of Fort Hare, which reminded Marchand of the history of student activism at Kent State. This was especially notable as some of the students who were on the trip with Marchand served in leadership roles in the Black United Students (BUS) at Kent State. The history of student activism at Fort Hare University, which has been well captured at the museum, is a reminder of the historical role of BUS in the creation of the Department of Africana Studies at Kent State and other student movements of the 1960s that helped to establish other Departments of African American or Black Studies across the United States. Marchand found “exploring those parallels was just really enriching.”

Alicia and a UFH PhD student at the University of Fort Hare during the welcoming ceremony for Kent State visitors.

Lasting Impact

In general, the program also sparked new paths for Marchand’s future studies and work. “I really want to work more with native and indigenous communities in the United States. Whether that be by volunteering or studying or otherwise, I’d really just like to know more and be involved if and when appropriate in ways of supporting those communities and advocating for them… a lot of what I’m interested in academically and what I have been interested in has to do with social justice work generally and a lot of that traditionally for me had to do with trying to build bridges between white social justice activists and… Black-led racial justice activism… I feel like I forged a lot of connections with the students I was with. I think this experience has helped to give me some credibility that I didn’t have before… fingers crossed, I think that some of the relationships I built with students in this program are relationships that will last well into the future, regardless of career path or academic path. These are people that I think are really, really brilliant and warm, and I would just love to stay connected with them for the rest of my lifetime.”

Kent State and UFH students, faculty, and staff in a group photo at the University of Fort Hare
POSTED: Thursday, August 24, 2023 08:16 AM
Updated: Monday, July 8, 2024 01:08 PM
Desiree Dube, Education Abroad Advisor