Celebration in Solidarity: Harvard Black Student Graduation Is Fine. A Guest Author differs with an earlier post criticizing the event

This guest post is particularly welcome because candid, respectful, informed debates on racial issues are so rare. And so very much needed.  Thank you, Allen. (Charles Lipson)

Guest Author: Allen Linton II

Allen is an advanced student in the University of Chicago’s PhD Program in political science. He also holds a BA from Chicago, and attended public schools in the city. His current research deals with youth politics, new/social media, and local elections.  Beyond the classroom, he is a member of the Chicago Global Shapers sponsored by the World Economic Forum and is interested in education, technology, sports, and media.

Editor’s note: ZipDialog is delighted to include this post. The opinions are those of the guest author. Readers are invited to respond. At ZipDialog, we take dialog seriously.

Linton’s piece is a response and rebuttal of the ZipDialog post: Harvard’s Black Students Will Hold a Separate Graduation Ceremony.

The back-and-forth on Harvard’s Black Student Graduation has been insightful, but I think there are some larger experiential differences that can be raised here without driving a deliberate wedge between different groups.

I’ve never attended Harvard (though I have friends who go there and others who have graduated), but I do attend a peer institution that has similar issues with Black students (staff and faculty) not having the best time. (Those are not only my personal views; they are confirmed in a recent diversity-and-inclusion survey conducted here at the University of Chicago. The report is available here.)

My perspective is that Harvard’s Black Graduation Celebration isn’t a sign that students want segregation, that they are anti-diversity, that this is a hard-edged stance.

This is much more a culmination of celebrating what they view has been a unique experience of getting through Harvard – unique in that the experiences on campus as Black students have been dismissed but are real and have affected them in important ways.

On the discussion thread, someone asked why they attended Harvard if they felt it would be so bad for them. The answer is the same for many people who attend these places: There is a wealth of opportunity to gain in these institutions, that institutions and people in them are not bound to the errors of their past, and one hopes to NOT experience these issues during their time at the institution.

It’s really awful to experience these things while there. Not everyone has the means to just leave. So they endure.

Having navigated the University of Chicago as an undergraduate and now as an advanced graduate student, I’m not saying every waking moment is misery here as a Black student. I’ve had an enjoyable time, but I cannot say that my peers have had the same experience.

It is disappointing to have police follow me or my Black peers around campus in ways they don’t with other students. It is irritating for people to assume that my area of study is on race or that my contributions in class will necessarily be about race. It’s confusing to see a place support serious inquiry but get dismissed when suggesting we cannot discuss [insert American political topic here] without recognizing the perceived differences for minority groups.

Students do have those experiences and they change the experience at the institution. Some students may have more resolve or grounding to deal with it but the point is that no student should have to experience this at an institution of higher education. (This may sound naive but it’s an ideal, and the pursuit of ideals is how we make tons of decisions. So work with me here.)

◆ Ultimately, this graduation appears to be a celebration of succeeding in this particular space among students who have a unique experience. I’m sure not all Black students will be there. It is also not an either/or proposition with the entire graduation. Ideally there wouldn’t be a need for it but there is something going on with how Black students are experiencing their time at these places and that seems worthy of serious discussion.

Stanford, Columbia, and Temple have these ceremonies. I think the conversation on this thread may be making this celebration into something far more nefarious or radial than it actually is. This quote is pretty notable to me: “Too often at Harvard, there is not cross-discipline contact between black students. So it can feel like you are the only person of color. At this graduation, we can show each other and the administration that we are here, we are strong and we are not going away.”

So I think the celebration is self-congratulatory, but I firmly disagree with my friend Charles that it is self-congratulation “masquerading as victimization.”

To put it simply: Harvard’s Black Student Graduation celebrates a unique experience that wasn’t always the best for reasons outside of their control. Enjoy the celebration!

The opinions in this post are those of the guest author, Allen Linton II.

He and ZipDialog welcome your response.

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