Columns, Opinion

No Sugar, No Cream: The importance of having a Black graduation

My excitement to apply to and attend Boston University emerged largely from its promise of “diversity” on campus. I wrote my personal statement in my application about how much I was interested in diversity. I even threw the word “diversity” into my college essay a few times for good measure. I’ve learned to sprinkle the word — which has lost much meaning since I first heard it — to my advantage in years that I have been made to try out for things so I can learn more or gain extra experience.

In gaining access to spaces where people boast how diverse they are, I’ve found out one simple truth: Diversity is often all for show. It seems to be more of a tool to appear less racist, less sexist and less homophobic than they are more than it is about actually accepting marginalized people and allowing them equity of opportunity in predominantly white spaces. This campus has far fewer people of color than any visiting weekend would like potential students to believe. Even more disappointing than a lack of many students of color was that most of the responsibility for supporting students of color falls onto the shoulders of students of color themselves and not the administration who worked hard to recruit us. Positive change happens, but it’s often not very big. Being “progressive” is slow and not necessarily sure.

Positive change this year has come in the form of Black students being allowed to hold a separate graduation or commencement run by Umoja, the Black student union, for the first time. I was naïve enough to think, after hearing about Syracuse, the university both of my siblings attend, that having a Black graduation every year is something that happens everywhere, but it isn’t.

A Black commencement is not a new idea, but it’s new for a few of Boston’s universities. Harvard held its first one last year (and received unnecessary backlash). Many colleges that care about making Black students feel like they are a part of a community that cares about them delegate time and resources to these commencements. Commencement is important for a number of reasons — the main one being that it is difficult to embrace diversity if we can’t see it.

It’s empowering to see Black people reaching graduation and attaining higher education degrees. It’s beautiful, and I am proud of every single Black person who finishes these programs. At the very least, it’s mentally exhausting to enter fields in which there aren’t many other people who look like you in the classroom or in the workforce that you will later have to navigate. 

It’s important to recognize the excellence and the strength it takes to look around a campus that represents 7 percent less Black people than are represented in the country and say to yourself: “I stuck it out and graduated.” Being the only person of your ethnicity in any given space in a predominantly white institution is not a universal feeling.

The best time to prove that the dedication to diversity is not a superficial recruitment tactic or PR trick is the present. Think of this commencement not as a segregation from a larger campus community, but a congregation of a smaller campus community. There is nothing to lose and everything to gain from embracing this event.

7 Comments

  1. You are talking from both sides of your mouth. Segregation is segregation…excluding others on the basis of their race is bigotry. All those who sacrificed so much for civil rights must be turning in their graves because of people like you who are trying to undo everything they achieved. What is wrong with you people?

    • I ask that you deter from insulting those who sacrificed their lifes for civil rights and take a look around you to notice racial disparities exist and affect the wellbeing of the black community. Are you afraid of us finding pride in our achievements?

    • Hi Jussi. I’m one of the organizers of Umoja’s Rite of Passage. I believe your comment is based on a misunderstanding of racism as a system in which those in power use bigoted beliefs to oppress others. I fully reject the assertion that making a Black graduation a tradition would upset our ancestors- I believe what truly makes them turn in their grave is the fact that they spent their lives fighting a fight that, in many ways, persists after their death. The graduation is separate from others held at BU, yes, but segregation? Have you asked yourself why Black students would feel the need, after four years at BU, to celebrate their achievements as a community separately from the rest of the student body? Do you think the student body and/or administration created an environment where Black students were fully integrated in the first place? By this, I mean did Black students receive the support they needed to thrive at a competitive university? Were they embraced by their peers as equals, not as tokens, and did their peers understand them (or care to understand them) and their experiences enough to for actual common ground to be built? Did they even see others who looked like them around campus? In addition, what benefits are Black students gaining from this reception that creates some sort of systemic imbalance within the entire student body? I’d challenge you to do some light research into the goals of the Civil Rights Movement. The implication that leaders of the CRM wanted everyone to hold hands and kumbaya rather than for Black and other oppressed peoples to be given equal access to opportunity is ahistorical.

      Lastly… “you people?”

    • It’s really embarassing to let your ignorance show like this, Jussi. Certainly you must understand the difference between the autonomous decision of a community to congregate separately and the forced division of people based on their race or other personal trait. If you do not understand the difference, you should really refrain from voicing an ill-informed statement like that and ask for clarification next time.

    • wow. where to start? “you people”? really? so often in our country black success goes unrecognized, this is not segregation, this is uplifting those who would normally go unrecognized and giving them the opportunity to celebrate their achievements without being whitewashed. The things that these students have gone through and put up with to get these degrees is beyond comprehension (of non people of color). To hear a white person (which I know you are from your comment) say they are being segregated against wouldn’t have civil rights leaders rolling in their graves, because well, some how white people are able to oppress everyone else while simultaneously playing the victim.

  2. Pauline E. Jennett

    Admissions in this country was largely built on keeping those who are not White Anglo Saxon, protestant, and male out. Admission offices at elite PWIs were largely established to avert the “Jewish problem”, where so many talented, brilliant males of Jewish origin were flourishing in these new educational arenas. Sadly, many PWIs have not aligned admitting people of color, with welcoming people of color with open arms. I thoroughly celebrate these graduation ceremonies that are affirmation that the students have made it in the midst of often overwhelming challenges, in an often oppressive, non-welcoming city. I believe the ancestors would be turning in their graves in celebration as students of color graduate from an illustrious research 1 institution, and go on to make their incredible mark in this world.

  3. Nashid, this is a phenomenal article.