Bringing a community together

By Kyle Hobstetter on May 24, 2018

TU’s Center for Student Diversity honors diverse student graduates

Towson University Graduates
Two Towson University students pose outside the Towson Center before 2018 Commencement. They are wearing a kente graduation stole which they got at the Ebony Celebration ceremony, which was one of four cultural celebrations presented by the Center for Student Diversity.  

In fall 2017, Towson University welcomed its most diverse freshmen class ever. And as its student population changes, TU continues to foster inclusion, collaboration and relationship building. 

The Center for Student Diversity (CSD) ensures that from the moment students set foot on TU’s campus until they graduate, their backgrounds and cultures are honored and celebrated.  

As Commencement approached, CSD partnered with several student and campus organizations to host celebrations for the LGBTQ+, black and African-American, LatinX and nontraditional students who will graduate this year.

“It’s a way for the students to celebrate one another, but also a way for us as a university to celebrate the work they do, not only for themselves but also their communities,” said Anee Korme, CSD associate director of student diversity and development. “So much of what has helped [students] be successful has been the communities that they have built.”

The Lavender Celebration

2018 Lavender Celebration
Towson University faculty, staff and students pose for a picture during the 2018 Lavender Celebration. 

The Lavender Celebration is an annual event that honors graduates from Towson University’s LGBTQ+ community.

The April 26 event at the University Union’s Potomac Lounge included alumni, faculty and staff in addition to this year’s LGBTQ+ graduates, who were honored for their work on campus both socially and academically. Graduates received lavender stoles they can wear at Commencement.

The Lavender Celebration also recognized the TU LGTBQ+ organizations:

  • GenderBLUR, a student organization and support group for transgender, genderqueer, gender variant, questioning and ally students.
  • In the Life, an intersection queer group for students of color
  • Queer Student Union
  • PRIDE Mentors Program, which enables older LGBTQ+ students to share their experiences with and advise new students.

Also featured were TU acapella groups Pitch Purrrfect and Original Blend, as well as a performance by Marabella Lopez, a Baltimore-based drag queen.

For Mario Rodriguez, CSD associate director of student diversity and development, the event gives students a chance to be their authentic selves. “Some students might not wear the sashes at graduation, because it might out our students,” he said. “But the Lavender Celebration is a time for them to be who they are.”

Ebony Celebration

2018 Ebony Celebration
Towson University students pose with their commencement stoles during the 2018 Ebony Celebration. 

It had been more than 30 years since Towson University hosted a ceremony to honor its black and African-American graduating students.

That’s why two students, Joshua White and Tamara Persad, partnered with CSD to hold the inaugural Ebony Celebration on May 11 inside the University Union’s Chesapeake Rooms. White is the president of the Black Student Union, and Persad serves as president of the Caribbean Student Association.

The celebration honored students who participated in the Ujima Black Solidarity Retreat, which featured student leaders from 17 different student organizations whose mission is to uplift, inspire and work with TU’s black and African-American community. Students who are graduating with an African-American studies minor were also recognized.

According to Korme, students wanted this event because so much of their TU experience  centered on the celebration of their identity, which they used to connect with other students and build a community. When the idea was presented to her, she jumped at the chance to help.

“I thought it was really important to celebrate the completion of their experience here and celebrate that part of their identity,” Korme said. “It’s a tight-knit community…and this was a great way for them to celebrate this shared experience.”

The event featured keynote speaker Marcia Vandiver, assistant professor of elementary education, as well as performance by a local poet. The honorees were then recognized on stage and given a kente graduation stole they can wear during Commencement.

LatinX Celebration

2018 LatinX Celebration
Students and staff pose for pictures during the 2018 LatinX Celebration. 

Because of number of students graduating, TU limits the number of Commencement tickets students can request for their families. The women of Lambda Theta Alpha, TU’s Latin sorority,  wanted TU’s Latin students to have a chance to share graduation with their entire families. 

Three years ago Lambda Theta Alpha partnered with CSD to start the LatinX Celebration, which celebrates and honors TU’s Latin student graduates.

Initially honoring just five students, this year’s event celebrated over 30 graduates. Along with being recognized, students were given a graduation stole modeled after a Latin American serape. 

And unlike the campus’ larger commencement ceremony, where only the graduate’s name is read, the LatinX Celebration shares students’ majors, where they’re from, how they are involved at TU and their favorite campus memories.

“This ceremony acknowledges our students’ identities,” Rodriguez said. “Here their whole family gets to celebrate their accomplishments. It gives these students their time to shine and brings the community together to celebrate their success.”

The growth of the celebration matches the growth of TU’s Latin student population. In 2008, only 2 percent of TU’s student population identified as Latin American. This year, 7 percent does.

And for Rodriguez, seeing those serape stoles on the Commencement stage is a perfect metaphor for the LatinX students on campus. “Those stoles remind us that our LatinX students are choosing TU, so what are we going to do to keep them here?’”

Newcombe and Pathways Scholars’ Celebration

Newcombe and Pathways Scholars' Celebration
Students and members of the CSD staff pose after the Newcombe and Pathways Scholarship Celebration. 

Through the CSD, TU offers two scholarships for nontraditional students seeking financial aid.

The Charlotte W. Newcombe Scholarship supports students 25 and older who are earning their first bachelor’s degree. The Pathways Scholarship provides financial assistance for low-income parents who have completed an associate degree and are finishing an undergraduate degree.

For the second straight year, CSD and TU honored graduating recipients of the Newcombe and Pathways scholarships. This year’s celebration, which recognized six students, took place on May 12 in the University Union.

According to program director Mahnoor Ahmed, the recipients faced extenuating circumstances in continuing their college educations. Those included caring for an ill family member, dealing with personal illness, being a primary caregiver for family members, working multiple jobs, commuting large distances, and other life challenges. Because of their age, they had exhausted their financial aid options.

The average age of the cohort is 35, with it taking an average of seven years for recipients to finish college. (Extenuating circumstances do get the best of some, and they drop out.)

For Ahmed, seeing these students finally earn their degrees merits a celebration.

“It’s very humbling and inspiring,” she said. “It’s important for us to say, ‘Hey, you did it. Your circumstances are not going to change, but you did it in spite of them.”

This story is one of several related to President Kim Schatzel's priorities for Towson University: Diverse and Inclusive Campus.