“Black Graduation” undermines black students’ accomplishments

David Davis, Jr.

I came to college with many credits, and as a result, I have received many emails about graduation even as a second-year student. One of those emails was from Afrikan American Affairs, a student organization that promotes black culture and leadership among black students, inviting me to participate in the Black Graduation ceremony — a reception for black UT students who are graduating this spring. 

According to the email, I was being celebrated for “being one out of only 4.5 percent of the [black] students that go to UT and also graduate from the University.” To demystify this figure, one should know that while black students do make up only 4.5 percent of the student population, 70 percent of these students graduate within a six-year time frame. Although this number is higher than the national graduation rate of black students, which sits at 42 percent, black students at UT have the second-lowest graduation rate of any ethnic group represented on campus. 

To be honest, when I do graduate, I will probably attend Black Graduation. It is comforting to be around people who have shared similar experiences in college, especially if the journey has been challenging, and Black Graduation makes this possible. But the reasons behind the ceremony should be re-examined. 

Despite the overall intention of the invitation, which I choose to believe is wholeheartedly innocent, I couldn’t help but be reminded by the email of the fact that I am a minority at UT who, statistically, should not be here. But good for me, right? Having attended schools with diverse student populations for the majority of my life, I have always been well aware of my status as a minority, and no one has ever let me forget that there is a beaten path for me as a black man. Any positive deviation from a predestined route of being a poor, undereducated criminal must mean that I am the exception. But mentally associating oneself with the socially disadvantaged “other” and being reminded of this societal position only creates a limiting sense of inferiority. 

Although I understand the purpose of Black Graduation is to commend black students on a remarkable achievement that society deems unlikely for a person of color, simply being black and receiving a college degree at the same time should not be a cause for celebration.

I knew early on that simply having a high school diploma and going to college was not going to suffice if I wanted to compete with my peers of different ethnicities who tend to perform better in school and in the job market. Black students should not be complacent with just graduating from college: It is only with a college degree that we have even the slightest chance of competing with people who do not look like us. 

Despite the inherent contradiction of a society that supposedly gifts the black community with affirmative action, which is supposed to give black people a fair shake in education and in the job market but still upholds institutional racism, black students should not view their ethnicity as an obstacle that prevents them from excelling academically. The email I received seemed to espouse the idea that my race was something to be overcome. Though repeatedly contacted for comment, no member of Afrikan American Affairs returned my requests for comment prior to this piece’s publication

Black students should regard themselves as equals to their peers of different ethnicities. When I walk into a lecture hall, it is not uncommon for me to be one of only a few black students, if any. But I am determined to see my classmates as nothing more than people who take the same notes and tests as I do. 

When all is said in done, Black Graduation allows black students to feel good knowing there are people in the same boat as them, and, as I said before, come my own graduation, I will probably attend the event. But I don’t want to be celebrated for simply being black and graduating; that is akin to giving a runner an award before the race is finished or giving medals just for participating. 

Davis is an international relations and French junior from Houston.