Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The University Of Toronto's 2017 Black Student Graduation Ceremony (article excerpts, videos, comments)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part I of a two part pancocojams series about the custom of Black graduating students having Black cultural graduation ceremonies. These graduation ceremonies are usually held in addition to and not in place of the school's or university's official graduation ceremonies for the general population.

This post presents two article excerpts about and two videos of the University of Toronto's 2017 Black graduation ceremony. Selected comments from one of these videos' discussion threads are also included in this post.

Click for Part II of this series. Part II of this series. Part II showcases eight various videos of Black graduation cultural ceremonies throughout the United States.

The content of this post is presented for historical and socio-cultural purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are featured in these videos. Thanks also to all those who are quoted in this post and thanks to the publishers of these videos on YouTube.

Excerpt #1:
From University Of Toronto Black Student Graduation Ceremony Celebrates More Than Finishing School
06/22/2017 13:55 EDT | Updated 06/22/2017 15:49 EDT
"Organizers say it's meant to acknowledge the remaining barriers for people of colour pursuing academia.
Michelle McQuigge Canadian Press

ORONTO — Organizers of a graduation ceremony for black students at Canada's largest university say the event is meant to acknowledge the barriers that remain for people of colour pursuing academia.

The ceremony is being held Thursday at the University of Toronto after two students took it upon themselves to organize the event for black students completing degrees at both the undergraduate and graduate level.

While the event is organized and run by students, it is going ahead on campus with the university's blessing and financial support.

Co-organizer Jessica Kirk says the event, believed to be the first of its kind in Canada, will give about 80 black graduates a chance to celebrate the accomplishment of overcoming systemic barriers unique to racialized groups seeking higher education.

She says black students face subtle racism in the classroom, contend with societal barriers that make it more difficult to pursue their studies, and often lack the benefit of black faculty members and senior academics to offer guidance and mentorship.

She also says that the special event, which will take place in addition to traditional convocations, seems appropriate in light of the students' extra efforts.

"We wanted to take a moment because of the different forms of adversity that they've had to face while at university and kind of congratulate them for making it to the finish line," Kirk said in an interview.

Kirk became involved in the event when her friend Nasma Ahmed returned from a black graduation ceremony held at a university in California. Other American universities, including Harvard, have held similar celebrations in the past.


Malinda Smith, political science professor at the University of Alberta...Smith praised U of T for its support of the black graduation, saying it sets a more inclusive tone.

"It sends an important message that you can actually have a commitment to valuing diversity and a commitment to excellence at the same time," she said. "It also sends a message to the students in the university that the university values them."

Complement to, not replacement for official ceremony

Others, however, criticized U of T's position.

A column in a local right-wing newspaper accused the school of "manufacturing victimhood" by endorsing the black graduation, while many social media users decried the decision as a backward step.

"U of T black students want separate graduation ceremony, for years fighting for inclusion, now want segregation, King wasted his time," wrote one Twitter user.

Both Kirk and Hannah-Moffat emphasized that the event was a complement to, not a replacement for, an official U of T convocation ceremony.

Kirk, who plans to begin masters studies at the school in September, said she hopes it marks the beginning of ongoing initiatives to make all students feel included.

"Yes, we're happy that we got the support and we're definitely thanking them for that, but we think that the conversation does need to continue beyond the event."
The bold font in this excerpt was included in the original article.

Excerpt #2:
From University of Toronto's Black Graduation misses the mark
Sue-Ann Levy, Published: June 22, 2017
..."One of the event’s organizers Nasma Ahmed, said the “celebration” (based on similar events held at universities in California and at Harvard) featured an awards ceremony – 10 students received a variety of awards for community service and research, among other things – and “naming out” all the black student graduates there.

“This was to celebrate black students and to recognize their work,” she said, insisting this was a “community building opportunity.”

Ahmed, who graduated this past Monday with a B.A. in public policy, said about 100 graduates attended, along with other black students and speakers like Akua Benjamin, a black activist based in the Ryerson faculty of social work.

Ahmed sounds like a lovely woman and I have no doubt her intentions were honourable.

But for heaven’s sake, perhaps someone should explain to [University of Toronto’s vice-president of human resources and equity] Hannah-Moffat what inclusion means and while we’re at it, ask her whether she is an adherent of Toronto’s motto, namely that “Diversity (is) our strength.”

Last I looked, inclusion means learning to live together, being included as one and accepting and recognizing each others’ differences. It is not segregating a group of students at a special ceremony – one of the many groups (like my own, Jewish students) who fought for years for inclusion – and perpetuating their perceived victimhood.

That said, Hannah-Moffat did indicate she’s happy to consider any similar suggestions for a segregated graduation from “racialized groups” in the future.

I’m not sure what she means by racialized, but I’m sure I’ll be marginalized by the SJWs who will disagree with the common-sense view expressed in this column and will need to find a safe space.

Since I’m a U of T MBA grad, how about we hold a special graduation celebration for Jewish people next year?

Wait, how about Jewish lesbians?

I think Hannah-Moffat and the like-minded U of T administrators are on to something.”

Example #1: Historic graduation ceremony at U of T

CityNews Toronto, Published on Jun 22, 2017

A special type of celebration at U of T honouring black graduates who hope events like this spark important conversations about race and education.
"U of T" = University of Toronto (Canada)

Example #2: University of Toronto students host Canada’s first black graduation

Maclean's, Published on Jun 29, 2017

Students Jessica Kirk and Nasma Ahmed organized the convocation to celebrate the success of black graduates at the University of Toronto.
Notice that a few of the graduating students wore kente cloth stoles.

Click for a related 2014 pancocojams post about Black students wearing kente cloth stoles in graduation ceremonies. That post is one of four pancocojams post about the custom of wearing kente cloth stoles at special church services, and at other occasions in the United States and elsewhere.
Here are selected comments from this video's discussion thread (with numbers assigned for referencing purposes only.) All of the comments are from 2017.
1. Jay N
"Why is segregating yourself a good thing?"

2. mellowandjello
"Heck, maybe i'll schedule a white's only graduation ceremony! (No Greeks or Southern Italians)
Oh wait, can't do it. Only okay for visible minority groups."

3. "So, Canada actually encourages racial segregation?"

4. Kenneth Freeman
"As a black man, and as a graduate of an HBCU, I actually do not agree with this seemingly growing trend. I know that everyone Black person does not have the opportunity, or desire, to go to an HBCU but I just do not get the thought process behind attending a PWI but wanting to have your own graduation. Like, were non-Blacks allowed to attend and be recognized at this event? If not, that's kind of defeating the purpose of inclusion is it not? I mean honestly, being very frank, if some white student decided to have a graduation celebration for just whites, we would all be up in arms. I just don't get the purpose behind these separate graduations, especially when the attendees are still participating in the general graduation. Sometimes people great problems with their well meaning intentions."
"HBCU" = Historically Black Colleges And Universities

Here's an excerpt from
"Historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are institutions of higher education in the United States that were established before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with the intention of primarily serving the African-American community. This was because the overwhelming majority of predominantly white institutions of higher-learning disqualified African Americans from enrollment during segregation.[1][2] There are 101 HBCUs in the United States, including public and private institutions. This figure is down from the 121 institutions that existed during the 1930s.[3] Of these remaining HBCU institutions in the United States, 27 offer doctoral programs, 52 schools offer master's programs, 83 colleges offer bachelor's degree programs and 38 schools offer associate degrees.[4]"...

5. William James
"Kenneth Freeman Their are no HBCUs in Canada."

6. Koal Kottentail
"Kenneth Freeman I attended the University of Toronto and I agree with you to some extent. Being black in Canada can be lonely we only make up 1 million people on consensus. Note that we don't have HBCUs here and U of T and York U are the only universities here that have Black fraternity chapters. There are alumni clubs for certain professions like the Black Law society of Upper Canada for attorneys, judges and other legal professsionals
There's very little representation of African Canadian students and Professors at U of T it's a prodimently Asian and White institute. Most blacks students choose York. Taking this into consideration I see why this is happening. You would probably be inclined to join a black student association or club if you studied here. HBCU's are a cultural privilege for African Americans. Overall I'm indifferent to what these new generation of students are practicing."

This concludes Part I of this two part pancocojams series.

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