Queen’s Student Diversity Project shines spotlight on Black identities in fashion

QSDP to host fashion show on Instagram

Fatou Tounkara is the president of QSDP.
Supplied by Fatou Tounkara
For years, Black artists have been criticized for fashion choices that are now celebrated in the mainstream. Fatou Tounkara, ArtSci’21, is challenging that narrative.
She’s president of the Queen’s Student Diversity Project (QSDP), a club created in 2017 with the aim of increasing and promoting diversity on campus.
“For Black History Month, we wanted to create an event to celebrate Black culture, Black identities,” Tounkara told The Journal.
“As you know, last year was a very hard year for the Black community, and so what we wanted to do is a more lighthearted event where we can still celebrate Black culture and also highlight the issues that Black people face but in a fun way,” she said.
The upcoming fashion show “Melanated Trendsetters” is part of “The Gamechanger Series,” which examines the impact of Black identities on major industries. It will take place live on QSDP’s Instagram on Feb. 28 from 1-3 p.m.
Tounkara will be discussing the history of Black identity in fashion and Black experiences in the fashion industry. She encourages people to participate by sending her their favourite outfits and showing off traditional African attire.
“That’s something I know as a Black woman I used to be embarrassed about wearing. Now, I’ve embraced it,” Tounkara said.
She noted how lots of nspiration for fashion styles comes from Black culture. For instance, the hair styles and baggy shirts that Black hip-hop and rap artists rocked in the 90s were looked down upon at the time. But now, that style is seen as a fashion statement when white artists appropriate it.
“There are a lot of people who are now praised for the style […] they have or the creativity that they have, but a lot has come from Black people and what they were looked down upon for,” Tounkara said.
“Now it’s seen as cool—as a fashion statement. You see that [style] back in music videos with Lil’ Kim or Will Smith in The Fresh Prince of Belair. That’s something we embrace in the Black community that was looked down upon for so many years.”
QSDP is all about carving out a place for different identities in a predominantly white school. Tounkara is aware of how discouraging it can be for prospective students when they hear the narrative that Queen’s is not a welcome place for all.
“When you do say those narratives, it erases the experiences of other people, people of colour, people of different economical backgrounds or sexuality,” she said.
“There are so many experiences at Queen’s, and I think it’s a shame to just ignore that, so that’s definitely what QSDP is about.”
One of the club’s missions is to encourage high school students to apply to Queen’s.
“We just wanted to change that discourse by talking to high school students who are interested in Queen’s and telling them that there is a place for everyone, and they shouldn’t just miss the chance to have a really good education […] because of what is said about the university.”
On a personal note, Tounkara said she found her footing when she joined the diversity project.
“Before, it was kind of hard for me to find a community and genuine friends who I could relate to. But QSDP really helped me find genuine people […] It helped me realize that there’s so much to do at university and sometimes it’s better to just do it than to complain about it.”
Tounkara remembers asking Nicole Osayande why she founded QSDP.
“She said [it was] because she realized what was lacking and instead of complaining about it for four years, she wanted to do something about it. That has been my mentality ever since—creating my own experience instead of accepting what is.”

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