Separate But Equal: Should Black Students Have Separate Graduations?

April 2, 2013  |  

Many universities are participating in separate but equal traditions. No, I’m not talking about Jim Crow, but graduation ceremonies. A recent study has shown that over 58 percent of schools have a graduation ceremony just for LGBT students, 33 percent have ceremonies for the black student population, and 22 percent have ceremonies for Latino students.

At many large universities, graduation day can be an all-day event where family and friends are dragged around to attend multiple ceremonies for the graduate. On my graduation day at Howard, many dual major JD/MBA students attended the law ceremony, the MBA ceremony, and the overall university commencement to get a glance at the big shot guest speaker. All this running around from auditorium to auditorium makes for a very tiring day.

Since Howard is an HBCU, there was no need to have a separate ceremony for other nationalities since the greater student population is black and this private university’s intent is to advance the education of African-American students. However, at universities like the University of Illinois with over 42,000 students and only 5 percent being black and 6 percent Hispanic, there appears to be much more of a need for these special observances since this public university is meant to benefit the overall community.

I had the pleasure of attending both a traditional graduation and the separate black graduation at the University of Illinois. My friend who was graduating seemed proud when she crossed both stages. However at the traditional ceremony she seemed more rigid and bored, while at the African-American student graduation later that evening she seemed more alive, high fiving her friends in her Kente patterned graduation sash. I was far more entertained at the latter ceremony, but then again, I am a biased audience.

With special attention being paid to certain minority groups at graduation, one might ask whether this is fair to the overall student population. Having separate graduations for all the schools at the university might make sense, but do we have to go as far as having separate ceremonies for different ethnicities? And note that the first school that ops to have a whites-only graduation ceremony would be called disgraceful and bashed all over the news.

In my opinion, minority students at large universities can be so outnumbered that it’s rare to have many people that look like you in your classes. Since we are usually drawn to people who look like us, most African Americans at universities are likely to have a tight knit group of black friends. I don’t think separate graduations are meant to isolate white students, but allow the small population of minority students to make a memory they will never forget by graduating shoulder-to-shoulder with some of their closest classmates.

Do you think minority groups at universities should have separate ceremonies? Let me know your thoughts.

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