Chicago State University Closing is a Huge Loss for Minority Scholars by Angel Johnson

Chicago State University Closing is a Huge Loss for Minority Scholars

It is my last semester as a graduate student and I am still in a bit of shock. I have been trying to complete the M.F.A. in Creative Writing program for over three years. At times, I did not think I would ever be able to finish. It wasn’t all about me. I am a first generation college graduate. It was important for me to be the first person in my family to earn an advanced degree. I wanted to show the next generation that it was possible to transcend your surroundings and achieve goals.

It was right around the time that I enrolled for my final semester that news of Chicago State University’s funding crisis started to make national headlines. Family members and friends called me asking if I would finish after all. I told them yes but I was devastated. It was sad to think that my last semester at the Chicago State University might be the semester that the school was open.

I wanted to finish the MFA program more than anything but ultimately it was not just the degree that mattered after all. What I gained from my experience during the program was worth more than any academic achievement. I found my voice as a writer, educator and human being. I studied writers and artists who I could relate to because they looked, sounded, and experienced the world like I did.

My undergraduate degree at the University of Illinois at Chicago was indeed well respected however I was always a minority first and a student second. Writing workshops were hit or miss. I often struggled  with challenges that none of my classmates or instructors could give me advice with. I was fortunate enough to receive a full scholarship however it was extremely difficult.

So I decided to enroll in the M.F.A. in Creative Writing program. I always loved writing and although I work in an industry altogether different, it is still my passion. I had many other challenges in my personal life so I knew that it was a good possibility that I might not complete the program. I looked forward to attending the writing workshops once a week during the evenings. I was able to critique and motivate my classmates and strengthen my writing techniques. I studied under writers such as Nnedi Okorafor, Quarash Lansana, and Kelly Norman Ellis. I was able to learn how to teach creative writing at the collegiate level from Dr. Conchetta Williams. It is empowering to know that if I ever wanted to pursue a career in writing, I have the training to do so. I grew more confident in my abilities with every semester.

In my second year, my job began requiring weekend work and my schedule became too hectic for me to continue the program part time. I took the year off but continued to write. Eventually, I found a company with a regular nine to five schedule and resumed my classes. When I realized just how close I was to finishing the program, I felt so surprised. I had made it. My classmates were in similar situations. They were juggling full time jobs, some had children, or elderly parents. We were all coming across the finish line. Of course, finishing the program this semester is bittersweet because of the loss of state funding to Chicago State University. As I conclude my program, the university might be closing as well. CSU, a mecca for minority students, will no longer be an option for first generation graduates like myself to achieve their educational goals.

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