Segregated, Supreme Court Affirmative Action

Colleges Push For ‘Segregated’ Graduation Celebrations After Supreme Court Affirmative Action Ruling 

Separate graduations started in the 1970s for Black students, but now they're available for Arab students and even low-income scholars.

Several prestigious colleges and universities are presenting options for graduation celebrations segregated by race, sexuality, and income for the spring commencement season following the Supreme Court’s overturning of affirmative action. 

Pennsylvania State University, Harvard, Columbia, American, and Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis are just a few schools holding ceremonies for Black graduates in May 2024. In recent years, other ceremonies were held for LGBTQ + students, undocumented immigrants, Arab students, and even low-income scholars. 

While conservative lawmakers continue to lobby for the closure of the diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) offices that host these ceremonies, supporters argue the ceremonies permit disadvantaged communities to express cultural norms freely.

“Students who do not represent White, Christian, cis-gendered, heterosexual males have not felt safe on college campuses,” Omekongo Dibinga, professor of intercultural communications at American University, said. “Every space in America where non-White people seek to gather or even advance themselves is being challenged in the wake of the Supreme Court’s actions to end affirmative action.”

However, the gatherings that started for Black students in the early 1970s are optional and open to anyone.

American University, located in Washington, D.C., ​​started offering separate graduations in 2017, but not in place of commencement. The event typically includes speakers, robes and other graduation measures. Dibinga pointed out that, legally, the events don’t meet the definition of segregation as “setting someone or something apart from others,” but nothing should stop people from congregating with members of their own community.

“There is nothing in the Constitution that prevents people choosing to gather with members of their own community,” he said. “It is a travesty that there is a push to stop people from celebrating themselves.”

The Multicultural Affairs office at Columbia College and Columbia Engineering are scheduled to host “Multicultural Graduation Celebrations,” with a goal to provide “more intimate settings for students who self-identify in a variety of ways,” according to the school’s website. “Multicultural Affairs recognizes that identity, social responsibility, allyship, and equity must be addressed at multiple interconnected levels to best support students’ various developmental stages,” the website states. 

The school held similar ceremonies in 2021, announcing virtual graduations “segregated by race, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status,” which garnered criticism from GOP legislator Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR). “The endpoint of critical race theory: segregation,” he wrote on Twitter. 

Harvard, which has had its share of controversy between 2023 and 2024, also scheduled affinity celebrations but not publicly. Published internal documents revealed the Ivy League school’s DEI office would host graduation events for Black, gay, Jewish, Asian, Latinx, “first generation-low income,” and military veteran graduates during the upcoming commencement season. The Jewish ceremony was added after the school faced allegations of antisemitism during anti-Israel protests, resulting in the resignation of the first Black president, Claudine Gay.