Memory catapults me back to Cambridge, Massachusetts in June 1990, when a couple dozen Mexican-Americans who were about to graduate from Harvard College had the radical idea to organize their own graduation ceremony.
Actually, it wasn’t really a full-fledged ceremony. It was more like a really big reception to celebrate Latino graduates on the night before they were to march into Harvard Yard and take their rightful place alongside their classmates in front of Memorial Church. At this Latino reception, there would be speakers and music and food. Maybe even mariachis.
I don’t know for sure, because — although I was invited, and met the basic qualifications as a Mexican-American who was graduating that year from Harvard — I skipped the event. There’s a story there, and I’ll tell it. But first, I have to take a moment and thank the white men at Fox News for “white mansplaining” the dangers of elite universities hosting multicultural graduation ceremonies — not instead of the main graduation ceremonies, mind you, but in addition to them.
After all, what did I know? I only lived through the experience of being Latino at Harvard twice (as an undergraduate and later a graduate student), and wrote a book about that strange trip when I was 25. In fact, I’ve thought this out, and written this up, for the last 30 years.
So when I read on Tuesday that Columbia University had announced that it would host six “Multicultural Graduation Celebrations” for African-Americans, Asians, Latinos, Native Americans, LGBTQIA+, as well as students from low-income backgrounds or who are the first in their family to graduate from college, I shrugged. Then I thought: “Ok, good for them.”
I mean, all students are invited to participate in these multicultural ceremonies, and anyone who does go to one of the events (which begin on April 25) is, of course, still expected to attend the main event — the official Columbia University Commencement on Friday, April 30.
Besides, I understood what Columbia administrators were talking about when they said these multicultural events were meant to honor the school’s diversity and “provide a more intimate setting for students who self-identify in a variety of ways” to “reflect on personal growth and community experiences that have impacted their time as students through to graduation.”
The last year has taught Americans that there are a lot of scary things in this world. I just didn’t think multicultural graduation ceremonies at Ivy League universities were one of them. I thought they were harmless.
Multicultural graduation celebrations have become increasingly common over the past two decades at universities across the country. So if these events were the danger Fox News says they are, and that a lot of people online are very upset about after “discovering” this new story on Fox, you would think they would have done some major damage by now. Apparently, one of the first Latino graduation ceremonies happened at UCLA way back in 1973.
“Sometimes, it seems that white liberals are more bothered than anybody by these sorts of things.”
The whiter the school, the more likely it is to host one of these events. Students of color might spend four years feeling unwelcome, alienated, and out of place. If they survive all that crap and make it to the finish line, it’s not too much to ask for the university that recruited them to provide — as Columbia put it — “a more intimate setting for students and guests to gather, incorporate meaningful cultural traditions and celebrate the specific contributions and achievements of their communities.”
I was so naive. Little did I realize just how divisive, destructive, and diabolical these kinds of events really were. For that sort of insight, I needed the wisdom of white men on Fox News, who are always ready to venture an opinion — even on topics about which they are profoundly ignorant. These subjects include race or diversity or immigration or cancel culture or — well, I don’t want to keep you here all day.
On Tuesday morning, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), tweeted a story from FoxNews.com and likened multicultural celebrations to “segregation.”
Later that night, on his primetime show, Fox News Host Tucker Carlson called the ceremonies a throwback to the “Jim Crow South.”
His guest, Mark Steyn — a Canadian-born conservative commentator who lives in New Hampshire — bemoaned “identity politics” and said the goal of multicultural ceremonies was “to weaken America, to weaken American identity, to weaken a sense of our civilizational heritage.”
Our heritage? Don’t let the Spanish surname fool you. My mother’s family of tejanos has been in this country for seven generations. They’ve lived in central Texas and the Rio Grande Valley since the landlord was Mexico. Steyn got here seven minutes ago. And now suddenly, it’s our heritage?
Yet conservatives aren’t the only ones with a hangup over these kind of multicultural graduation ceremonies. Sometimes, it seems that white liberals are more bothered than anybody by these sorts of things.
Sure, white conservatives will raise a stink at the beginning of the process when people like me are admitted in the first place because they think it is only because of affirmative action which always equals “reverse discrimination.” But it is white liberals who often get their feelings hurt when students of color sit together in the cafeteria and then go on to hold separate graduation ceremonies.
It’s time to ask white liberals some important questions: Why are people of color on these mostly white campuses in the first place? Are they there because they’ve earned the right to go as far as their gifts will take them, or are they there to allow the liberals who run the place to “virtue signal” and tell the world they’re progressive people at the helm of an enlightened institution? Are students of color in these schools for their own good, or your own good? Your benefit, or their benefit?
If it’s the latter, then we need to give these students a wide berth to do what they need to do, as long as no one gets hurt — to feel respected, comfortable, and proud of who they are from the day they step onto campus to the day they graduate. The university may have thought it admitted a color, but what arrived was a human being. Handle with care.
Harvard made it official in 2015, when a group of students organized the first ever Latino graduation ceremony. It had all the bells and whistles.
Twenty five years earlier, as I said, I ducked out on a ceremony honoring Harvard Latinos on the night before we graduated. Honestly, at the time, after all the alienation and homesickness — not to mention the bad Mexican food in Boston — I just felt like I had suffered enough to earn the right to not separate myself from the Harvard experience in any way. I was entitled to all of it. I wanted to swallow it whole.
And so, the next day, I marched into Harvard Yard with my classmates — of all colors — and closed the deal.
However, my roommates did go to the Latino ceremony, and they seemed to really love it. They saw it as a gift to their immigrant parents, because some of the proceedings were in Spanish.
So overall, while it’s not my shot of tequila, I support the concept of multicultural graduation ceremonies for others to enjoy.
See, it’s not always all about me. The white men at Fox News should take that lesson to heart.