Identity and African attire: Duke students reflect on cultural fashion

Every year, excited students arrive on Duke’s campus carrying luggage, boxes and many other personal items. Some are seen clutching teddy bears from childhood. Others are being dropped off by emotional parents. Excitement, worry, anxiety and all the other complex emotions that come with migration are palpable.

In this sea of people are a group of students for whom this is an experience not only laden with long layovers, hysterical goodbyes and family farewells, but spicy cooking ingredients, traditional ethnic clothing, flags and many other items of cultural significance to the African continent. Whether they’re donning curly hair or thick afros or braids, the African student stands out for many reasons: There is usually an ethnic bracelet, ring or African print somewhere on their dress, notepad or handbag. Some are coming from different countries in Africa, and others are coming from homes in the United States saturated with hints of their African heritage.

Students from Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Bostwana and other African countries chose to attend universities across the United States for various reasons, be it seeking a study abroad or finding better universities for their desired goals. When they set foot on the schools’ campuses, their determination to succeed and their hesitation in foreign cultures are evident in the many stories that later become topics of discussion at student associations formed by their predecessors.

But one important discussion for many African students is how to remain rooted in their culture while being in a new and alienating place. Many carry different items that not only remind them of home but signify their identity as Africans — items they hold dear.

Read more here
Subscribe to our Newsletter
Stay up-to-date