Society

Harvard Will Hold Commencement For Black Students Only

| by Shani Shahmoon

Over 600 people are scheduled to attend Harvard University's first-ever Black Commencement ceremony.

After a long history of connections to racism and slavery, Harvard University has spent the 2016-2017 academic school year rebranding itself. And on May 23, over 170 students will walk across the stage for a black-students-only commencement ceremony, celebrating their graduation from Harvard University, with 530 guests in the crowd cheering them on, Yahoo! News reported.

The event, titled the Black Commencement, has been a work in progress since July 2016 and has brought up a number of contentions regarding the fact that it seems to promote segregation.

The organizers and attendees, however, have shared their positive perspectives on the event.

Michael Huggins, president of the Harvard Black Graduate Student Alliance, which is spearheading the event, stated that it is not about segregation, but rather, "This is a chance to reaffirm for each other that we enter the work world with a network of supporters standing with us. We are all partners."

He referred to the commencement ceremony as "an opportunity to celebrate Harvard's black excellence and black brilliance."

Every student set to walk across that platform will be wearing a shawl made of kente cloth, which represents his or her African heritage.

The Crimson, a Harvard University student-run paper, wrote that the commencement would feature speeches from students, alumni and administrators, as well as honor 2016 alumni Aaron Bray and Tonika Morgan with the Black Legacy Award, which is to give thanks for their contributions to black student life.

For Harvard University, the past year has been filled with declarations of support for the African-American and black communities, The Boston Globe reported.

University President Drew Faust and John Lewis, a Georgia Representative and civil rights icon, unveiled a plaque on the campus which commemorated four slaves who had been owned by Harvard presidents of the past. In addition to that, the university agreed to redesign the logo for Harvard Law School, a family crest of an 18th-century slave owner.

But the same can't be said for other campuses -- or the nation in general.

The Black Commencement comes after a year of reported heightened racism on college campuses and across the nation.

U.S. News & World Report said that an investigation is being held on American University's campus after bananas were found hanging from nooses across campus, with racist comments written on them.

All the while, the Black Lives Matter movement picked up steam after incidents of police brutality received the spotlight of several major news sources.

Jillian Simons, incoming chair of the Harvard Black Graduate Student Alliance, said that the commencement ceremony is a time to celebrate the progress and success of the black population but also to reflect on the past.

"There is a very somber tone to it because of the things we've had to overcome," Simmons said.

Student organizers confirmed that the administration has been supportive in their planning and that a number of graduate schools have donated money toward the commencement's costs. They have raised $27,000 so far, The Boston Globe reported.

Similar ceremonies have taken place at Harvard University, but specifically for undergraduates, as well as at Stanford, Columbia, Temple and other universities. 

Sources: The Boston Globe, Yahoo! News, The CrimsonU.S. News & World Report / Photo credit: Chuck Kennedy/Official White House Photo

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