Columbia announces 6 separate graduation ceremonies based on race, ethnicity, and sexuual orientation

Columbia University recently announced their plans to hold 6 simultaneous graduation ceremonies for groups of students separated by their race, sexual identity, and other characteristics of how they might identify themselves.

Columbia University, located in the heart of New York City, announced that it would be holding 6 graduation ceremonies for Black, Latino, Asian, Native American, first-generation American students, low-income students, and students who are members of the LGBTIAQ+ community. The prestigious university recently publicized, via its university website, a plan to hold “graduation ceremonies for Native, Asian, “Latinx” and Black students taking place for Columbia College, Columbia Engineering, General Studies and Barnard College.” They expanded, describing their “FLI Graduation,” saying it is for “first generation and/or low income community.” Lastly, Columbia also described their “Lavender” graduation ceremony as one for the “LGBTIAQ+ community.” The university also stated that their 6 ceremonies were to “exist in addition to, not instead of, University-wide commencement and individual school Class Days.” These ceremonies will take place online, on April 30. 

While such separate graduation ceremonies could be easily just organizational procedures, as smaller sections will be necessary in executing graduation ceremonies for thousands of students via zoom, it’s not all about practicality. Columbia University has described its separate graduation as “important, intimate and welcoming spaces for students aligned with these groups to come together to celebrate their achievements if they wish.” 

As could be inferred from the statements directly explaining the university’s perspective in hosting such ceremonies, it’s likely that the main goal is to make students feel like they are amongst people with similar identities to their own. It’s clear that Columbia values its own multicultural identity, as a university, shown in its presentation of the “Multicultural Affairs Graduation Cords.” Columbia University will be awarding students in the separate ceremonies with the “Multicultural Affairs Graduation Cords.” The university describes the awards as tokens of recognition for students who “demonstrated an outstanding commitment to inclusion, global diversity, social justice and multiculturalism through Multicultural Affairs…” Thus, such separate ceremonies are most likely designed to, more or less, make the various groups on its multicultural campus feel comfortable in groups of people with similar cultures to themselves.

Nonetheless, Columbia University’s decision to hold separate graduations– whose makeup is based on race, sexual identity, and economic class– has proved to be a controversial and political issue. Some conservative-leaning individuals have been critical of the university’s plans, claiming the separate ceremonies to be forms of ‘voluntary segregation.’ Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton expanded on this sentiment, describing the university’s separate ceremonies as an example of a “‘woke’ university embracing discrimination,” later describing the endgame of such practices as being “segregation.” Meanwhile, more left-leaning individuals refuted such claims, noting that more universities than Columbia– notably, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Syracuse, etc.– have held separate graduations before. As well, many have defended Columbia’s position, saying that such practices are to “acknowledge students who have been historically underrepresented in higher education.”




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