First-generation college students can find success by demonstrating their abilities and protecting their integrity, Tameka Ellington, faculty director for diversity at Kent State’s Shanno Rodgers and Jerry Silverman School of Fashion Design and Mechandising, told an audience during the Student Multicultural Center’s Soup and Substance event on Thursday.  

Ellington spoke about her memoir, “Make Fear Your Superpower,” which was released in November 2019. Her book is a coming-of-age memoir about her experience as a first-generation college student and becoming the first African American professor at the Fashion School.

Ellington shared anecdotes about escaping the violence of inner-city Cleveland by enrolling in Kent State, overcoming racism in job hiring by filing an affirmative action suit against the Fashion School and facing imposter syndrome as the first black female professor at the Fashion School. 

“I had to put fire inside myself because I knew if I didn’t, I wouldn’t succeed,” Ellington said. 

The event concluded with a discussion about knowing one’s purpose, handling continued rejection and balancing work and passion. 

“The biggest thing for me is being able to not be fearful to talk about the experience you have on a day-to-day basis. Being OK with being uncomfortable talking about those things … it’s really necessary to talk about what’s happening in order for things to change,” Ellington said.  

Soup and Substance is an event regularly held by the Student Multicultural Center, where a speaker comes to the center to educate and facilitate a conversation on a topic of culture, along with a light meal. 

“We usually have soup and/or food to go along with it. The soup part is obvious and the substance is the talk,” said Michael Daniels, interim director of the Student Multicultural Center.

The Student Multicultural Center typically hosts Soup and Substance twice a semester during heritage months, but it also hosts the event when students and faculty express a desire to discuss current issues and controversial topics.

“She’s [Ellington] done so many things here at the university. We thought it was awesome to be able to highlight her and what she’s doing beyond Kent State … making a way for women of color,” Daniels said.

Previous Soup and Substance topics have been people of color in the media, Native American stereotypes, mental health stigma in communities of color and the stereotype that Hispanic or Latin American people must speak Spanish. Last year for the Student Multicultural Center’s 50th anniversary, Donald Thigpen, the first full-time staff member for the center, came to Soup and Substance. 

“[We] talked about 50 years, then and now, where we’re at,” Daniels said. 

All students and faculty are welcome at the Soup and Substance events. Those attending can hope to gain cultural awareness, have good discussions and make new connections, Daniels said. 

“To me, the event was a reference to Black History Month as well as becoming known to the unknown. … It makes me want to go into investigation on the diversity of fashion,” said Antoine Williams, sophomore hospitality management major. 

“[Soup and Substance] provides an opportunity to educate people on topics they may not otherwise research or think about on their own. … It gives time to affirm different cultures within our community,” Daniels said.

Michael Reed is a general assignment reporter. Contact him at mreed66@kent.edu. 

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