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Say it Loud…Onyx

February 16, 2012

Seven Black university students founded Onyx Senior Honor Society in 1974. The students, Claudette Christian, Craig Inge, Sharon Moorer, Linda Walker, Charles Wardlaw, Joseph Watkins and Robert Wilson, along with Provost Elliot, Alice E. Emerson (Dean of Students) and Harold J. Haskins (Associate Dean of Students), formed the honor society. According to Joseph Watkins, Onyx was formed because many Black students were overlooked and could not be accommodated by the existing senior societies.  They could only accommodate 25-30 seniors and only 3 to 4 African-Americans.  The name Onyx was selected because of the precious Black Stone.  The main purpose of Onyx was to recognize, commend, and promote high academic achievement and service within the Black community at the university. Built on the three tenets of heritage, humanity, and humility, Onyx strives to encourage all Black students, beginning in their freshman year, to become academically successful; this is to increase retention rates.

Founders of Onyx

One of the primary goals of Onyx was to re-establish the Society for African-American Students at the University of Pennsylvania, which provided an all-expense paid program for Black students in the summer before they entered college.  The initiative’s goal was to prepare students for the long journey ahead. The program lasted for three years, from 1969-72, and provided books, room and board, a stipend, and two credited courses to its participants. From this Onyx initiative, Penn’s the Pre-Freshman Program was created. In the past, Onyx has been a safe space to hold forums and discuss Black social issues on campus; however, today, Onyx’s initiatives have shifted. Onyx members mentor students in conjunction with Makuu, the Black Cultural Center, through the Paul Robeson Mentoring Program. Onyx board members are paired with underclassmen and are responsible for helping younger students navigate Penn. The Onyx Honor Roll is in place to recognize the achievement of younger students who have above a 3.0 GPA. In 2005, given the low retention rates of Black men on Penn’s campus, the Brother’s Outreach initiative became a top priority to promote academic excellence within the Black male community.

Onyx does not end once members graduate. Onyx alumni are often in contact with current members.  They provide employment opportunities and advice, which aligns with the tenet heritage, stating, “We strive to uphold the traditions and values of our predecessors and pass them on to our successors.” In order to continue establishing a bond between members old and new, Onyx makes it a responsibility to hold alumni events during Homecoming, Penn Relays, and Graduation.

George Hardy CAS ’12

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