New GrizzOrg hopes to promote professional endeavors


Brendan Triola

The Black Graduate Student Organization works with their undergraduate counterpart with mentoring and promoting advanced degrees.

Sadie Layher, Staff Reporter

Black Graduate Student Association of Oakland University, or BGSA, is committed to providing a safe and motivational space for graduates of any discipline.

The group was founded by Celeste Smith, Juanita Tookes, Michelle Southward and Allison Palmer and is advised by Doctor Jennifer Matthews, assistant professor in counseling. The group first produced the idea in fall 2017, and Matthews assisted in getting the organization off the ground. The idea is for this organization to help graduate students academically as well as socially.

“I am striving to be an instrument of change… focus on coping strategies, and I am here to succeed and not to burn out,” Tookes said.

The values of BGSA are unity, mentorship, service and social justice. The aim is to serve as an academic, emotional, social and professional resource. There is a national organization with this title, and this group will be a chapter of the larger organization.

“I knew no one and felt alone and wanted to connect with others who looked like me who are also pursuing graduate degrees,” Smith said.

There is also an undergraduate version of this association called the Association of Black Students. That group was established in 1968 at Oakland around the time of civil rights movements taking place around the country with a strong energy towards equity.

In 1969, the first African-American History month took place at OU. While the Black Alumni Association was established in ’74, this is the first black graduate student association of its kind in the history of Oakland.

“I like the idea of having support as I was able to be social as a undergrad but not seeking a professional degree,” said graduate student Chantelle McChristian. “Having that support so we can network and support each other I think is important.”

Often, professional and advanced degrees are severed into different cohorts. The cohorts or smaller groups often have no contact outside their specific program. This group is aimed at changing that theme.

“[It’s a] way to celebrate our culture… with mentorships and professional development to foster support,” Palmer said.

The group plans to bring in different speakers and panelists as well as to meet monthly as opposed to meetings per semester. To become a member there is a 3.0 GPA requirement which is also a rule of the national organization. The fee to join will be $10 since there are no funds right now because the group just started and is trying to grow. Costs associated with potential events will be discounted for members as well as will purchasing sweatshirts and shirts with the BGSA logo on it.

“This is to encourage undergraduate black students to pursue degrees and become agents of social change by fostering support, network opportunities and create an area to collaborate,” Tookes said.

The hope is to work together with the Black Students Association, to act as mentors and to promote advanced degrees regardless of discipline area.