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University of Chicago student group offers ‘Black Graduation’

University denies that ceremony ‘for all…black graduate students’ is exclusionary

University of Chicago graduate students this June can participate in a “Black graduation” according to an email obtained by The College Fix.

“Black Action in Public Policy Studies…is hosting a graduation ceremony for all University of Chicago Black graduate students” on June 1, the email stated. BAPP is a student group at the Harris School of Public Policy.

The email described the event as “an important capstone in the Black experience at the University of Chicago.” The Fix reached out to Christian Johns and Semeredin Kundin, two Harris students listed as event contacts, to ask who is funding black graduation, how it fits in with other graduation events and what the organizers would say to criticism that black graduation is akin to segregation.

“Unfortunately, we will not be able to comment on your inquiry at this time,” Johns replied.

The group “dedicates itself to centering the experiences and needs of Black people through policy from a Black feminist lens,” according to its description listed on the university’s website.

The university denied that the “capstone in the Black experience” event is exclusionary. The Fix reached out to spokesman Gerald McSwiggan, asking if, in addition to a “black-only graduation ceremony at UChicago,” there were any other race- or identity-specific graduation ceremonies.

“Your description of the event as ‘black-only’ is inaccurate and is not part of the event description,” McSwiggan said via email. “The group’s online materials make it clear that its events and activities are open to all who are interested.”

A professor and commentator on racial issues at DePaul University criticized the event in an email to The Fix.

“The universities are creating racists out of students because, in effect, it is painting white students as persons from whom blacks need to be separated; that whites are an intimidating presence,” Professor Hill told The Fix. “The whole all-black-graduation ceremony phenomenon is predicated on the DEI axis, with an emphasis on inclusion.”

MORE: Black students demand segregated spaces from white peers

“It is a variation on the idea that blacks need to be included in a specific way into an all black black space on campus because the USA and its institutions remain systemically racist,” Hill said. “These attitudes and policies are totally contrary to the goals of the Civil Rights Movements, and the moral meaning of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.”

Hill is the author of a book about racial justice and slavery.

“The role of the university is not to cultivate balkanized racial factions on campus, nor is it to foster any experience (other than a scholastic one) such as the ‘Black Experience,” the philosophy professor said.

“Universities ought not be sites for social engineering nor yielding to demands for identity expression rooted in feelings, desires and wishes which are forged in the crucibles of identity politics,” Hill said. “The ultimate goal of the university is to equip each student to become a rational, autonomous and sovereign agent who can navigate the world as an independent entity.”

Speaking more broadly, Hill said that it seemed the country is “drifting apart.”

“Black people are developing more and more into a separate and distinct culture and identity with their own political destiny,” the DePaul professor said. “This cannot be good for our republic, especially at a time when our nation is the most hospitable to and encouraging of the interests and well-being of black people.”

The university came under criticism last semester for a course on the “Problem of Whiteness.”

“Critical race theorists have shown that whiteness has long functioned as an ‘unmarked’ racial category, saturating a default surround against which non-white or ‘not quite’ others appear as aberrant,” the course description stated.

MORE: More than 75 universities now host black students’ graduation

IMAGE: Black Action in Public Policy Studies/Facebook

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About the Author
Benjamin Ogilvie -- University of Chicago