Black Graduation

Story by Haley Schlatter

Photo courtesy of Nathan Worden

Enthused students, nervous parents, and sweltering heat will all be in attendance on May 24, 2015. But some students fought harder than others to get to this monumental graduation day.

When senior Jasmine Johnson walks across the stage in her cap in gown, she will receive a diploma for not one, but three majors. As a black student on Chapman University’s campus, Johnson’s dedication to academia should be celebrated and validated.

And she’s doing everything she can to make that happen.

“We need to have Black Graduation here at Chapman because Chapman has no resources for minoritized students,” said Johnson. “I think this event is important to let people know that we understand the additional stress that you had as a student here at Chapman. We recognize the importance and how great it is for you to have finished even with all of the difficulties and we want to celebrate that.”

Chapman’s first Black Graduation ceremony serves as a special landmark event to many minority students on campus.

“BSU has been inspired by other campuses who put on this event for their graduating black students and allies,” said Summer Blair, sophomore and 2016 Black Student Union president. “The reality is that graduation rates for minority students is low and to celebrate this achievement for those who are rising above this statistic is important.”

But this ceremony dedicated to minority students has raised questions for some.

For Ben Gallagher, Black Graduation builds an unnecessary divide. Rather than promote inclusion, the event unnecessarily separates the student body.

“I think that chapman does a great job of trying to be inclusive and sometimes in trying to do so it is received as exclusive. (Black Graduation) separates an entire group from the rest of the student body,” said Gallagher, a sophomore public relations and advertising student.

But for Johnson, Black Graduation calls special attention to students who have overcome substantial obstacles to receive a degree.

“It doesn’t happen often that minoritized students are accepted into four year universities, let alone that they finish and graduate. It’s a huge accomplishment for a minoritized student to receive a degree,” said Johnson. “I’ve heard students say, ‘isn’t this segregation, isn’t this reverse racism? Why isn’t there a White Graduation?’ And what I say to that is: ‘I live in a white graduation society,’” said Johnson.

This year’s Black Graduation ceremony will not only honor black students, but also include racially diverse students and LGBTQ students. Ally students have been invited to participate in the ceremony, as well.  

Students organizing the event have received additional support from Chapman’s administration.

With support from staff and administration, those in charge of Black Graduation have found the experience rewarding.

“It was initially stressful just because I had no concept of how planning would work, but that was very brief,” said Amanda Ball, sophomore strategic corporate communications major and co-organizer. “Dr. K White Smith has been incredibly helpful with advising throughout the process. No matter how stressful it could have gotten, it would have been something I would be more than willing to take on again because I think it's an important ceremony for students of color on Chapman's campus to have.”

Looking towards the future, students in support of Black Graduation hope the event goes beyond celebrating current seniors.  

“I really hope to call attention to those lack of resources and hopefully educate people and put people in action to bring those resources here to chapman,” said Johnson.

Black Graduation is on May 21 at 7pm in Memorial Hall.


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