In 2019, Southern announced there was no ethnic majority on campus. And two local newspapers, The Chattanooga Times Free Press and The Chattanoogan, published articles highlighting the diversity of the school. Southern ranked first in racial diversity among universities in the South, and on Niche, currently ranks 193rd in ethnic diversity among all American universities.
Stephanie Guster, senior advisor for diversity at Southern, has been working on a project to create ethnically diverse stole designs. Graduation stoles, worn over the robes at graduation, are typically plain, without much or any decoration.
“President Smith requested that I work on this as Senior Advisor for Diversity,” Guster said. “Students benefit from the support of cultural club membership, celebrations, understanding their identity, belonging and social connectedness.”
The Diversity Committee on campus has two main focuses: to promote understanding of cultural differences; and to promote the celebration of diversity for all ethnic and underrepresented groups.
Guster explained the project was heavily inspired by Revelation 7:9-10, which reminds her of how diverse God’s creation is; yet, we all come into unity under Him.
The designs that were approved by Academic Administration were developed in collaboration with club presidents, according to Guster. The stoles themselves will be made available to members of the various ethnic clubs on campus. Club membership is required to purchase the stole, as the funds will help support the clubs remaining active.
“The stoles being based on our cultural clubs represent so much more than the garment,” Guster said. “They represent the fabric of what makes us a diverse community and family. They represent the student leaders who serve, who advocate, who plan ways to showcase the ways God made us different, while at the same time expressing gratitude for the love that unifies us. I believe they represent the divine tapestry that God himself created.”
Students interested in purchasing a graduation stole should contact their cultural club president, and if they have not yet joined a club, they are highly encouraged to do so. Currently, the price of the stoles is estimated to be around $65.
“I also hope to inspire cultural club leadership,” Guster said. “It’s more than a stole. It represents all of the hours cultural club leaders/members put in. … They represent the rainbow that will be at the graduation of the redeemed.”