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The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

Fatimata Cham ’23 wins Pepper Prize

Photo by Emma Sylvester for The Lafayette
A Truman Scholar, Cham will work at Bloomberg after she graduates.

As the former student body vice president, a published poet and a recently-named Truman Scholar, Fatimata Cham ‘23 likely needs no introduction. However, Cham doesn’t want to only talk about herself; instead, she prefers using the spotlight to help others shine.

“I like seeing people win,” Cham said.

As this year’s Pepper Prize winner, Cham hopes that her accomplishment will inspire Lafayette students to reach their goals long after she leaves.

“I hope that for all the Black girls that come to this campus, they feel safe and they feel like they have a community here … I hope that me winning this award serves as an inspiration to other people,” Cham said. “Not that they have to also be Pepper Prize winners or finalists, but that they should work to achieve the goals that they want on this campus, regardless of whatever struggles that they may be facing.”

In addition to being a double major in government and law and women’s, gender and sexuality studies with a minor in religious studies, Cham is involved in many extracurriculars on campus. The two organizations that she’s dedicated the most of her time to are Girl Up, of which she is the president, and Student Government. In addition to serving as vice president for Student Government, Cham was also the director of the Equity & Inclusion Committee.

Cham chose to run for vice president rather than president because of her desire to focus on her passion projects.

“I wanted to be in a role that was more working to build Student Government behind the scenes, like working with other students on the executive board,” Cham said. “I got to have the opportunity to actually work on a lot of projects [and] initiatives, whereas I feel like if I would have run for student body president, it would have been … more front-facing work.”

Student Government Parliamentarian Trebor Maitin ‘24, who ran against Cham for vice president, has worked closely with Cham in Student Government.

“When I learned that she had declared her candidacy for vice president, I was spooked. And I knew immediately that I’d lose, and that was okay,” Maitin said. “I knew that Student Government would be in good hands with Fatimata.”

Cham is proud of helping to raise over $22,000 for racial justice as well as spreading awareness for related initiatives while she was a part of the Equity & Inclusion Committee. She also continued Pard Pantry, which was started by former student body president Flor Caceres ‘22, by writing a resolution to make it a permanent project.

As vice president, Cham took over the menstrual equity program originally spearheaded by her predecessor in the position Thalia Charles ‘22. She helped to administer a survey to gather feedback on the program and hopes these materials will allow for the formation of a menstrual equity coalition.

“I have worked with a lot of student leaders in my 12+ years in higher education, but Fatimata stands out as truly one of the exceptional ones. She has such a positive light, an incredible work ethic, and a compassionate heart,” director of Student Involvement Vanessa Pearson wrote in an email. “Fatimata cares deeply about her community and works tirelessly to make sure everyone has equal access to resources, support, and opportunities.”

Cham was also the president of the Muslim Student Association (MSA) last year.

“There are people in MSA who have been really encouraging and pivotal … so I feel like MSA has played a good role in my leadership development,” Cham said.

During her time at Lafayette, Cham is proud of her feature in the Apple TV+ docuseries “Dear…”. She also cites the Truman Scholarship as a pivotal moment for her.

“When I won, it was really reaffirming being surrounded by other public service-minded students from around the country, so that was a proud moment for me,” Cham said.

Cham was also a member of Dear Lafayette, a Black-led student coalition “dedicated to fighting systemic racism and discrimination on College Hill.”

“Dear Lafayette was a huge part of my growth here … something I hold valuable is students being able to have their own autonomy to say like, ‘These are the problems that we see in our school, and these are the issues that we want to address and meet,’” Cham said.

Additionally, Cham has made an impact in the classroom and on her professors.

“In the classroom, Fatimata represents the finest qualities of a Lafayette student: she is endlessly curious, deeply insightful, and always ready with one more question,” women’s, gender and sexuality studies professor Mary Armstrong wrote in an email. “In the great tradition of feminist inquiry, she uses her knowledge to work with others to create real and meaningful change. She is not afraid to make a difference.”

Cham encourages everyone to look past the front page and to value the importance of working behind the scenes.

“You don’t always have to be at the forefront of the conversation to make a meaningful impact … It’s like, you want to be the one wearing the medal or standing first place on the podium, but it’s also the people who set that podium up that have added value,” Cham said.  “And you may not get recognition right away, but over time, I feel like you’ll get fulfillment out of that.”

Above all, Cham values community.

“​​Not that I don’t care about my personal achievements … but I genuinely care about my community and showing up for them,” Cham said. “And I feel like if it wasn’t for the encouragement of the people that came before me, like Flor, Savanna [Touré ‘21], all these other amazing women of color trailblazers, I wouldn’t feel confident enough to even be a Pepper Prize finalist.”

“She uses her voice to uplift others,” Caceres said of Cham. “She isn’t one to really take over the spotlight but rather also share the spotlight with you.”

As a community-oriented person, Cham feels honored to have received the Pepper Prize.

“Obviously, the campus voted for this award,” Cham said of the Pepper Prize. “So it’s like the campus community believes in me and what I’ve done on this campus … It kind of feels like the community giving me something.”

Managing Editor Trebor Maitin ’24 did not contribute writing or reporting.

View Comments (4)
About the Contributors
Shirley Liu
Shirley Liu, Managing Editor
Shirley Liu manages, edits, and manages edits.
Emma Sylvester
Emma Sylvester, Photo Editor

Comments (4)

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  • S

    Selin Sinan UzMay 5, 2023 at 2:03 pm

    It’s wonderful to see that Lafayette College has leaped a century. What an impressive lady Fatimata is. Congratulations!

  • R

    Richard WellingtonMay 5, 2023 at 11:47 am

    Shocking, so many others deserved this award but in the end PC police win again.

    • S

      Selin Sinan UzMay 5, 2023 at 1:59 pm

      Richard Wellingtons, your comment reminded me of the time when a student of color, now a very accomplished poet Ros Gay was elected for pepper price. Many LC community members echoed disappointment just like you. . It’s mind-blowing that individuals like you could think rewards are only worthy of their liking.

    • L

      Lafayette StudentMay 11, 2023 at 7:58 pm

      Fatimata is an unbelievably accomplished, incredibly kind hearted person and anyone at Lafayette would agree this was a well deserved win