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African American Textile Society Builds Lasting Community for Students of Color

African American Textile Society members

By Mary Giuffrida

“It has definitely felt like a place for us to feel comfortable and come together,” says Deja Herelle, President of the African American Textile Society (AATS), about the organization. 

AATS is an influential organization supporting and guiding students at the Wilson College of Textiles. According to its original constitution, the mission of AATS is “to provide a support system as well as a network within the African American population of students within the College of Textiles.” Though AATS was founded to support African American students, all students are welcome to join.

African American Textile Society members

Herelle, a senior fashion and textile design student, has been a member of AATS since 2018 and the president for the past two years. She remarks on the ways in which AATS has continued to fulfill its mission.

“I don’t know how to put it into words,” she says. “What it means to have a space outside of regular college classes for people to feel comfortable.”

The society is purposeful in creating not only a welcoming social community but also a tight-knit academic community. Student members of AATS push each other to do better in every aspect of life, coming together to form study groups and provide needed support to each other throughout the semester.

“Being able to have a community of support, a strong foundation of folks who are taking some of the same classes,” Jaquan Scott, the current AATS staff advisor, explains. “I think the AATS Council checks those boxes of social, community support as well as academics.”

AATS Fashion Show model
AATS Fashion Show model

Along with building lasting relationships among students, the society also sponsors a variety of community events on campus, the biggest being the annual Fashion Exposé. The Exposé, which has occurred since 1997, unites talented students from across the Wilson College to showcase their original designs. It is the longest running student design competition on campus, and takes place as part of Pan-Afrikan Week

“Each person plays a part in it, or has some small or large role,” Scott says. “The Exposé really helps ground AATS. In doing so, it spreads roots throughout the rest of the college.”

The student members of AATS spend the months before the completely student-run competition taking care of everything from recruiting designers and funding, to staging the show. All Wilson College students are encouraged to participate in the exposé, which students and community members alike look forward to all year.

Outside of the Fashion Exposé, students involved with AATS participate in countless other fun and educational events and gain access to an expansive network of alumni. Among the recent events hosted by AATS were group mask-making, service learning opportunities and community fundraisers. 

“We had a panel where we got people that graduated from the college,” Herelle says. “They came and spoke to us and we got to ask them a bunch of questions. One was  working at Nike, while another had her own styling business in Atlanta.”

AATS has been providing opportunities like this to students at the Wilson College since 1992. Events like halloween carnivals, staff breakfasts and community outreach to local families are just a few of the events described in past AATS constitutions. From the beginning, AATS has been committed to propelling its members towards success, and in the past 30 years it has done exactly that. 

Wilson students who join the African American Textile Society are not just adding an extracurricular activity to their resume, they’re joining a lifelong community dedicated to their success.

“AATS is supporting our students of color,” Scott says. “This organization provides a safe space, if you will, for those students to come together, share ideas, organize and support each other.”