Universities are increasingly offering graduation events focused on participants’ identities and segregated by race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and even income, according to a report by a conservative education publication.
Campus Reform, which is published by the Leadership Institute in Arlington, Virginia, reported last week that more than three dozen colleges and universities are holding graduation events this summer to recognize groups based on race, gender and sexual orientation.
Columbia University, Harvard University, Ohio State University, Illinois State University and the University of Texas at Austin are among those offering special ceremonies for Black graduates.
Yale University, Dartmouth College and the University of Michigan will hold special ceremonies for Asian and American Indian graduates.
Other schools are hosting special graduations to recognize LGBTQ, first-generation immigrants, women and low-income students.
“It stokes division by allowing identity politics to form the basis of how students see themselves as undergraduates, graduates and alumni,” said Peter Wood, president of the conservative National Association of Scholars.
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Mr. Wood, a former associate provost at Boston University, said alumni groups are also forming around the divisions despite a conservative fight against the trend for at least 10 years.
“It elevates our differences above the idea that we belong to a single community of learners,” Mr. Wood said.
Several of the universities did not respond to requests for comment.
Many of them have defended the separate ceremonies as student and alumni initiatives that administrators are happy to endorse as reflections of diversity, equity and inclusion.
Harvard held a Black commencement for the first time in 2018, and Columbia last year added six ceremonies to its main commencement based on race, ethnicity and other self-identifying multicultural factors.
“These events provide a more intimate setting for students and guests to gather, incorporate meaningful cultural traditions and celebrate the specific contributions and achievements of their communities,” Columbia said on its website last year.
A spokesperson for Southern Illinois University told Campus Reform that “these events create a unique space that celebrates the completion of degrees and certificates to graduates with the support of families, friends, faculty, and staff.”
Retired lawyer Mark Pulliam, who has written about the trend of Black graduation ceremonies at the University of Texas at Austin, said they violate the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “dream” of a colorblind society.
“This is a shameful retreat from MLK’s vision, and for state-funded schools, it is arguably unconstitutional,” Mr. Pulliam said. “Nothing more clearly violates the norm of colorblindness than ‘Black only’ events or facilities.”
While some universities add the celebrations on top of traditional commencement ceremonies, others are holding multiple graduations instead of a single ceremony.
California Polytechnic State University will host nine separate commencement ceremonies from June 3-12. They include the Black Commencement Ceremony, the Lavender (LGBTQ) Commencement Ceremony and the Monarch Commencement that “recognizes and uplifts the accomplishments and success of undocumented students.”
Cal Poly and the University of California, Davis will offer Black graduates Kente stoles made from traditional West African cloth to wear over their robes.
Graham Piro, a program officer at the nonpartisan Foundation for Individual Rights in Education in Philadelphia, said the Black graduations could become grounds for legal challenges.
“As the courts and federal law have reinforced time and time again, good intentions do not make race-based segregation lawful,” said Mr. Piro, whose organization advocates for free speech in higher education.
“Excluding students of a particular race from an educational program wrongly suggests they have nothing to gain from the event and nothing to contribute because of their race,” he said.