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Grad events for black, LGBTQ students back on schedule at UT-Austin

Alumni group organized celebrations after university canceled events in wake of DEI ban

Special graduation celebrations for black, Latinx, Asian, and LGBTQIA+ students are back on the schedule this spring for the University of Texas at Austin after an alumni group decided to organize the events.

The alumni organization Texas Exes recently announced plans to host the graduation events in May after the public university canceled its cultural graduation ceremonies in response to a new law restricting diversity, equity, and inclusion programs at public higher education institutions.

Texas Exes spokesperson Dorothy Guerrero told The College Fix on Tuesday that they are organizing four events: Lavender Graduation for LGBTQIA+ students, GraduAsian, Latinx Graduation, and Black Graduation at the UT Austin Alumni Center.

Guerrero said their plans are still coming together, but the format of the events will be different from what the university did. She said each event will be a “come-and-go” celebration for graduates and their guests rather than a traditional graduation ceremony.

“The Texas Exes looks forward to celebrating our 2024 graduates and welcoming them to the Alumni Center and the next chapter of their lives,” Guerrero told The Fix. “Through these celebrations, we will help new grads get plugged into our Networks, which work year-round to support students and alumni around the world.”

In January, UT-Austin announced it will no longer fund its cultural graduation ceremonies, The Daily Texan reported. The news came after its Multicultural Engagement Center, which organized the events, closed in January in response to Senate Bill 17.

The new law, which went into effect Jan. 1, prohibits DEI offices on public college and university campuses and ends “all activities that discriminate against students based on their race, ethnicity, or gender,” according to a statement from state Sen. Brandon Creighton, the lead sponsor of the bill.

Exceptions include “academic course instruction,” “research or creative works by an institution of higher education’s students or faculty,” and activities by student groups.

Creighton’s office did not respond to several requests for comment from The Fix in the past two weeks.

When the bill passed in June, Creighton said the changes will ensure Texas “campuses return to focusing on the strength of diversity and promoting a merit-based approach where individuals are judged on their qualifications, skills, and contributions.”

Some groups oppose cultural graduation ceremonies, saying they promote segregation, not diversity.

Mike Markham, program coordinator at Color Us United, an organization that works to end racial division in America, told The Fix this week that such events are not progress.

“The fact that universities which already welcome and serve students from across the U.S. and around the world feel the need to fund and stage racially segregated graduation ceremonies is utterly ridiculous and represents a huge step backwards in modern society,” Markham said.

Still, many public and private universities host such ceremonies, including several University of Texas system schools.

UT-Arlington has hosted graduation ceremonies for African American, Hispanic, and Asian American Native American Pacific Island students in recent years, as well as a Lavender Graduation for LGBTQ+ students. Its media office did not respond to requests for comment from The Fix this month about if the events will be taking place this spring.

A search of the university events calendar online only showed one of the four ceremonies scheduled for 2024, the Celebrando El Éxito for Hispanic students.

Additionally, UT San Antonio used to list several cultural graduation ceremonies, including one for black students, one for LGBTQ students, and one for “Dreamer and undocumented students,” on its website. However, the page was removed sometime since September, web archives show.

Still, at least two of the ceremonies appear to be taking place this spring. The university events website shows a Black Student Graduation and Lavender Graduation slated for May.

The university’s media office did not respond to several requests for comment this month from The Fix asking about the cultural graduation ceremonies and the removed webpage.

Texas A&M hosts a Latinx Graduation Ceremony, and the University of Houston hosted a Diversity Graduation in 2023 to recognize “First-Generation, Lavender (LGBTQ+), Multicultural and Military/Veteran Graduates.” The University of North Texas also has hosted a Lavender Graduation for LGBTQ students in recent years.

The Fix contacted the universities’ media offices and several cultural groups within the colleges asking about the cultural graduation ceremonies this spring, but none responded.

MORE: UT-Austin scraps support program for undocumented students in wake of new DEI law

IMAGE: Ekrulila Pexels /Shutterstock

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About the Author
College Fix contributor Scott Giebel is a graduate assistant for sports information at Wheeling University where he is pursuing an MBA. He previously received his bachelor’s degree in Sports Journalism at Millersville University. While there he wrote for the Athletic Communications Department as well as for 717 Sports Media.