Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Minority Convocations Lend Cultural Flavor to Celebration

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Minority Convocations Lend Cultural Flavor to Celebration

Article excerpt

PHOENIX -- When Alejandro Contreras graduated last month from Arizona State University, he was thinking about his migrant-worker parents' mud-caked shoes.

"You see our shoes?" Contreras remembers his tired mother saying after returning from a long day in the lettuce fields. "They are all muddy when we come home. Look at us. We don't want you to be killing yourselves to make a living."

The image of those shoes is why Contreras sought a college degree. It's also why he skipped the university's official commencement, when thousands of other students crammed the basketball arena, finishing their university experience by tossing mortarboards into the air.

Instead, Contreras participated in the smaller but more personal Hispanic convocation one of three Arizona State convocations aimed at minority students. The Hispanic, Black and American Indian convocations offer students an opportunity to express cultural pride.

At the bilingual Hispanic convocation, Mariachi music replaced the usual Pomp and Circumstance, while students at both the Black and Native American convocations filed in to the sound of drums. An African Yoruba tribal chief performed a rite-of-passage ceremony at the Black and African convocation, and many of the students taking part in the American Indian convocation wore traditional regalia.

University officials and students say that although the minority convocations are growing in popularity, everyone on campus does not embrace them. Some dismiss them as racially divisive events that foster separatism rather than unity.

That message was clear to the students who organized last month's Black and African convocation at Neeb Hall when posters publicizing the event were repeatedly torn down, defaced and stuffed into garbage cans.

"It was very deliberate and obvious," says event coordinator Rhonesha Blache, a 21-year-old psychology student from south Phoenix.

Minority convocations, which are open to all students but are geared toward various minority groups, are growing in popularity primarily because the number of graduating minority students also is on the rise.

Minority student enrollment at Arizona State's main campus in Tempe increased almost 70 percent in the past decade, to 8,536 from 5,031. At the same time, the number of minority undergraduate degrees doubled and minority graduate degrees tripled.

Not all minority students choose to participate in the ethnic convocations. …

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