- The Washington Times - Monday, May 16, 2022

A U.S. civil rights official has warned two colleges that their segregated graduation ceremonies for Black, LGBTQ and other minority students are illegal under federal anti-discrimination laws.

Attorney Peter Kirsanow, a Black member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, admonished California Polytechnic State University and Oakton Community College in Illinois that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bars them as government-funded schools from offering programs that exclude White, male students.

In two separate letters shared with The Washington Times, he cites the act’s Title VI provision that “no person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subject to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Mr. Kirsanow wrote to California Polytechnic President Jeffrey D. Armstrong on April 25 about the university’s plan to hold nine separate graduations next month for Black, “Latinx/Chicanx,” Jewish, disabled, Asian and other students.

“It has apparently escaped the notice of Cal Poly’s Office of General Counsel that separating students based on race or ethnicity remains illegal in 2022,” Mr. Kirsanow writes.

The Republican attorney notes that the public university is not offering any “special commencement ceremonies for White students who are not disabled, Jewish, LGBTQ, or in the country illegally.”

“Imagine for a moment if this were reversed,” he writes. “Consider if Cal Poly held a ‘European American Commencement’ to ‘Celebrate the culture and accomplishments of European American students,’ but no comparable ceremony for African American students.”

Mr. Kirsanow wrote in a separate letter on Wednesday that Oakton, located west of Chicago, has gone beyond segregated graduations to create an academic program for Black men only.

His letter cites Oakton publicity information that says the school created the Emory Williams Academy for Black Men as “a community designed for Black male-identifying students” to be “led by dedicated Black faculty and staff.”

He wrote to Joianne Smith, president of the school located west of Chicago, that the academy “likely also violates Title IX” legislation by not being open to women.

“I urge you to immediately end the Emory Williams Academy for Black Men, or to revise the program (including dropping “Black Men” from the title) so it is race- and sex-neutral in regard to both students and faculty,” Mr. Kirsanow wrote.

California Polytechnic did not respond to a request for comment.

Frank B. Garrett, an attorney representing Oakton Community College, told Mr. Kirsanow in a letter on Monday that the Emory Williams Academy for Black Men was “designed to address the data driven concerns of lack of enrollment, retention and academic success of Black men.”

“While the college believes that the Emory Williams Academy does not discriminate in violation of Title VI, VII or Title IX, your letter provides it with the opportunity to review the Academy messaging statements to ensure that they are consistent with the Academy’s intentions and how these intentions will be met,” Mr. Garrett wrote.

The Cleveland-based Mr. Kirsanow, whom President George W. Bush first appointed to the commission in a 2001 battle that went to the Supreme Court, is serving a fourth consecutive term that expires in 2025.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, reappointed him to his current six-year term in December 2019.

Mr. Kirsanow’s office confirmed Monday that California Polytechnic has not responded to the April 25 letter.

“We literally could send a letter about these programs every day,” his office told The Times.

Oakton spokesman Steve Butera said Monday that Black men need Black male role models.

“Instructors and staff working with the Academy are knowledgeable and dedicated to teaching Black men and other students who can identify with being historically disadvantaged and marginalized,” Mr. Butera said in an email.

“The Academy will provide a sense of belonging and community for its students to combat the very real feelings and sense of isolation on a college campus,” he added.

Wilfred McClay, a history professor at private Hillsdale College in Michigan, said segregated programs and commencements undermine the “highest ideals” of colleges to unite rather than divide students in a common pursuit of learning.

“The university is meant to be a community built around the possibility of shared knowledge,” Mr. McClay said. “Segregation by identity politics denies that possibility and leaves us trapped in our tribal identities.”

Correction: In a previous version of this story, Mr. Hoyer was incorrectly identified.

• Sean Salai can be reached at ssalai@washingtontimes.com.

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