Posted with permission from China Daily

BOSTON, Massachusetts - Black students at Harvard University are organizing a graduation ceremony of their own this year to recognize the achievements of black students and faculty members some say have been overlooked.

More than 700 students and guests are registered to attend Harvard's Black Commencement, which will take place two days before the school's traditional graduation events. It isn't meant to replace the existing ceremony, student organizers say, but rather to add something that was missing.

"We really wanted an opportunity to give voice to the voiceless at Harvard," said Michael Huggins, president of the Harvard Black Graduate Student Alliance, a campus group that is planning the ceremony. "So many students identify with the African diaspora but don't necessarily feel welcome as part of the larger community, and they don't feel like their stories are being shared."

Harvard joins a growing number of universities that have added graduation events for students of different ethnicities. Some have offered black commencement ceremonies for years, including Stanford, Marshall University and the University of Washington. Some have added them more recently, and are also adding events for a variety of cultural groups.

Black undergraduates at Harvard have held similar graduation events in the past, but student organizers say the new ceremony is the first that's open to students across the university.

The May 23 event at Harvard will feature four student speakers discussing the hurdles they faced on the way to graduation. Every student will receive a stole made of traditional African kente cloth, meant to symbolize their shared heritage and to be worn with their cap and gown at the university's graduation.

Black students at Harvard represent 5 percent of the overall student body, compared with whites, who make up 43 percent, according to federal education data. Campus tensions at the Ivy League school have been heightened over the past two years after a series of racially charged episodes.

Organizers of the Black Commencement say the event is partly aimed at highlighting racial disparities on campus. But ultimately it's a celebration of achievement, said Jillian Simons, a law student and president-elect of the Harvard Black Graduate Student Alliance.

"We want to acknowledge how far we've come," Simons said. "We want to say that there is a time to be jubilant and to acknowledge something that is positive instead of something that is causing heartache."

Associated Press

(China Daily 05/19/2017 page10)