News & Politics

Harvard to Hold Black-Only Graduation

Harvard University (Shutterstock)

I’m from the Deep South, and the Civil Rights Movement is intricately linked to our local history. My hometown of Albany, Georgia, was one of the few places where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was unsuccessful in his efforts to battle segregation. Eventually, however, he succeeded. By the time I started school in the late 1970s, I entered into school with people of all races and religions. I never saw a time when people were divided by race.

Until now, at least.

You see, apparently the problem with segregation wasn’t that people shouldn’t be kept separate based on arbitrary things like skin color—the problem was with the people who made what decision. For example, if you’re a black person at Harvard, it’s OK to call for segregation.

Two days before Courtney Woods dresses in a cap and gown for Harvard’s traditional commencement, she will don a stole made of African kente cloth and address the crowd at a somewhat different event: a graduation ceremony for black students.

Student organizers said the event, called Black Commencement 2017, is the first universitywide ceremony for black students at Harvard and is designed to celebrate their unique struggles and achievements at an elite institution that has been grappling with its historic ties to slavery.

More than 170 students and 530 guests have signed up to attend the ceremony, which will be held May 23 at Holmes Field, near the Harvard Law School campus. The event will feature speeches by black students, alumni, and administrators.

“I can only imagine how special I will feel when I walk across that stage and be able to honor my identity and my struggle at Harvard,” said Woods, who is completing a master’s degree at the Graduate School of Education. “I know this is exactly what students like me need to be inspired as we leave this place as emerging global leaders.”

Similar ceremonies have been held for Harvard undergraduates as well as for students at Stanford, Columbia, Temple, and other campuses. On May 23, Harvard will also hold its third annual graduation ceremony for students of Latin American descent.

Oh, boy.

Can you imagine what would happen if a group of white students had decided to do such a thing? Frankly, I’d be shocked at this point if blood wasn’t shed in the process, but it’s perfectly fine for a minority to decide to engage in a divisive ceremony designed to highlight race over anything else.

Defenders of these ceremonies claim they’re not divisive at all. Michael Huggins, president of the Harvard Black Graduate Student Alliance, argues, “This is really an opportunity for students to build fellowship and build a community.” Huggins’s group is responsible for this ceremony, so of course, he’s a fan.

However, building fellowship and building a community at an event where only one race is included sure does sound like the kind of thing that will build walls rather than tear them down. Frankly, in four years at Harvard, wasn’t there some opportunity to build that fellowship and develop a community?

I know Harvard is a tough school, but since students can engage in petty “resistance” politics, I’m assuming there was at least some time for that.

Instead, it doesn’t matter what Huggins said. It’s about separating blacks and whites. Nothing more, nothing less.

Apparently, segregation is cool with black people like Huggins and the crowd at Harvard, so long as it’s on their terms.