Harvard Prepares to Host All Black Graduation

Dion J. Pierre

  • Article
  • May 12, 2017

Black students at Harvard will host the school’s first-ever “Black Graduation” ceremony. Reports say students raised over $25,000 for their private gathering, and despite claims by critics that such events promote racial segregation, one student organizer sees things differently. Per the Boston Globe:

“…the ceremony is “not about segregation,” said Michael Huggins, president of the Harvard Black Graduate Student Alliance, which is organizing the event. Students of all racial and ethnic backgrounds may attend, he said, and the black students taking part in the ceremony also plan to attend the university’s official commencement on May 25 in Harvard Yard" 

"The primary reason we wanted to do this is we really wanted to come together to celebrate Harvard black excellence and brilliance,” said Huggins, who is graduating from the Kennedy School. “This is really an opportunity for students to build fellowship and build a community.”

This isn’t the first time black students on college campuses demanded exclusively black accommodations. Columbia, NYU, and the University of Washington offer similar ceremonies, and Harvard’s Latino students will also have their own commencement this year.

The trend has drawn criticism from those who have argued that accentuating differences between races dissolves national unity. But proponents of the ceremonies contend that the unique experiences of blacks and other minorities warrant a separate celebration. They insist that segregated commencement ceremonies foster a sense of fellowship unlikely to be realized with their white peers. By this logic, white students just don’t understand the gravity of the achievement of black students.

Is this true? NAS is at the outset of a research project to examine this and other similar questions. I’m curious, though, whether student experiences across racial lines might be more similar than Huggins and others assume.

In an age when whites experience family dissolution, unemployment, and substance abuse at a rate once exclusive to the black and Latino underclass, the case for exclusively black experiences of marginalization is increasingly harder to make. Rural white students may have more in common with working class blacks and Latinos than their white, “legacy” counterparts, and by many accounts, an “Ashley from Beattyville,” is as statistically unlikely to be a Harvard graduate as a “Jeremy from Cleveland.”

Black-only graduation ceremonies are a relatively new trend, one that will likely spread to universities throughout the country. Historically, Ivy League institutions have been laboratories of similar “diversity” initiatives; what happens at Harvard shapes the goals of second- and third-tier institutions.

Campus diversicrats will point out that students are free to attend official ceremonies, but the convenience of a private event will be a strong incentive for students to choose between the two. Instead of fostering bonds of kinship Americans need now more than ever, these ceremonies ask students and families to draw a distinction between black, Latino, Asian, and white success where none exists.

Ultimately, university officials go wrong when they treat students as black, Latino, or Asian, i.e., as different. By doing so, they reinforce the idea of interminable inequality and conflict between the races. This is a common yet counterproductive theme of our public debates. If our universities hope to ease racial tensions, they should encourage students and parents to meet one another as citizens united by a common sense of purpose, not as mutually opposed ethnic groups.


Image: Harvard by Joseph Williams, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

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