The highly prestigious Columbia University based in Manhattan, New York will host six graduation ceremonies, in addition to the university wide graduation, for students based on their race and ethnicities.
“In honor of Columbia’s diverse student community and complementing the school- and University-wide graduation ceremonies,” the university wrote on their website, “we are proud to also offer Multicultural Graduation Celebrations, which provide a more intimate setting for students who self-identify in a variety of ways.” The additional programs were first announced by Columbia’s Multicultural Affairs department.
The racially distinct ceremonies are designed for students “to reflect on personal growth and community experiences that have impacted their time as students through to graduation.” All seven ceremonies are open to students regardless of race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status and are voluntary for students who do fit into those categories.
Throughout the last week of April, students of African, Asian, Native American, and Hispanic (or as they refer to it as Latinx) will have a separate ceremony for their group. First generation and students from low income families will also have a separate day in addition to students who identify with the LGBT+ community, dubbed the Lavender Graduation Ceremony.
A spokesperson for Columbia University told the Daily Mail that these ceremonies are meant to bring people together, and these smaller ceremonies were originally organized and sponsored by students and alumni.
“Columbia marks graduation every spring with a university-wide Commencement ceremony and Class Days for the graduates of each of our schools. These events bringing together all of our graduates and their families are a high point of every academic year. The smaller celebratory events held for particular groups are in addition to, not instead of, the main Commencement and Class Day graduation ceremonies. In most instances, these smaller, multicultural gatherings evolved from ceremonies originally created by alumni and students. The gatherings are voluntary, open to every student who wants to participate, and have become a highly anticipated and meaningful part of the Columbia graduation experience.”Daily Mail
Conservative commentator Candance Owens, and Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton have likened the events to “segregation,” and “discrimination.”
A student-run publication, the Columbia Spectator, disagreed with the Senators’ assessment, pointing out Columbia is far from the only school to host such ceremonies.
“For underrepresented Columbia students,” they wrote, “these events are often hard-won commemorations of surviving what can be a hostile institutional and social environment. First-generation, low-income students spent years pushing for a unique ceremony before being able to conduct the inaugural “First-Generation Graduation” in 2017.”
“Identity-specific ceremonies are not unique to Columbia’s Commencement traditions. At Yale University, the Afro-American Cultural Center has hosted a graduation celebration for Black students for over two decades. “Lavender Graduations,” designed to uplift LGBTQ students, have a similarly long history. After first being offered at the University of Michigan in 1995, these ceremonies are now held at 220 universities nationwide.”