Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Michigan State's Black Graduation Ceremony Criticized

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Michigan State's Black Graduation Ceremony Criticized

Article excerpt

EAST LANSING, MICH.

Critics are taking aim at a new, optional Michigan State University event that will honor Black graduating seniors next month, saying it is unfair and promoting separatism.

In one of several letters sent to the MSU student newspaper, Michael Cykowski, a senior computer science major, wrote: "What would happen if some students tried to organize an all-White graduation? All hell would break loose. They would be labeled bigots."

Michael Oden, an MSU senior from Detroit, brought the idea to MSU this year after learning about a similar event the University of Michigan has had for about a decade. He says he did not expect resistance.

Many colleges across the nation and some in Michigan - Eastern Michigan, Wayne State and Oakland universities, have had separate, optional graduation celebrations for Black and other minority students for years. Students who attend are usually given a certificate of accomplishment.

Nikki O'Brien, Michigan State's coordinator for African American Affairs, says Black students who participate in the event, called the Black Celebratory, are not being asked to choose one ceremony over the other; they are encouraged to attend both.

Supporters of the celebratory say many Black students are the first in their families to attend college, so the accomplishment often takes on greater meaning for them, their relatives and friends.

"The response of critics is indicative of White privilege, because they don't really understand why this is a significant accomplishment for Black students," O'Brien says. "For White students to say we all have the same struggle" is misguided.

Another element of the controversy is that the 15-member student programming board of MSU's student government declined a request of about $2,800 for the event, saying it will serve too narrow of an audience. …

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