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Is it segregation or much ado about nothing in NYC? Delve into coverage of Columbia University, its graduation ceremonies, and other news.

Is NYC’s Columbia University racist? See the bizarre graduation schedule

University commencement will be upon us next month, as universities across the nation will say farewell to their graduating seniors, grad students, and doctoral candidates. 

Typically, this can mean separate ceremonies for students earning their BAs and students earning their MAs & doctorate degrees. At larger universities, to get everyone graduating out the door before lunch or dinner, they’ll separate students by major or last name (A-L graduating at 1:00, M-Z graduating at 4:00). 

However, Twitter is now abuzz because Columbia University reportedly decided to host separate graduation ceremonies based on race, class, income level, making those not in the know go whaaat?! Columbia’s an Ivy League school in NYC – surely they’re not dumb enough to openly segregate students by race in 2021? Could this be fake news, an exaggeration? What’s up with these headlines?! Let’s find out. 

The scoop

Let’s go to the source: per its website, Columbia University is hosting separate virtual ceremonies for certain. Black, Latinx, Indigenous, LGBTQIA+, and low-income/first-generation students can participate in separate ceremonies. It’s unclear how long this NYC school has hosted these separate events, but this isn’t the inaugural year of these multicultural ceremonies. Per Columbia University’s website: 

“Multicultural Affairs collaborates with student organizations, alumni groups and University partners to organize multicultural graduation ceremonies. Complementing our school- and University-wide ceremonies, these events provide a more intimate setting for students and guests to gather, incorporate meaningful cultural traditions and celebrate the specific contributions and achievements of their communities.” 

And yes, this certainly isn’t the first year Columbia University has hosted these separate graduation ceremonies. From a 2019 webpage on its site: “Latinx Graduation (formerly called Raza Graduation) has a long-standing history within the University of celebrating the accomplishments of our undergraduate Latinx graduates, as well as recognizing the role that Latinx students have played in shaping Columbia’s landscape.” 

Digging deeper

These graduation ceremonies are hosted by the Multicultural Affairs department as previously stated, but they’re also hosted by student & alumni organizations, including Undergraduate Student Life, GS Student Life, and the Columbia Alumni Association. 

Per the schedules listed on Columbia University’s site, none of the scheduled multicultural graduation ceremonies for the NYC school run simultaneously with Columbia’s main graduation, which is hosted April 30th at 10:30 a.m. EDT this year. It will also be held virtually. 

According to Columbia University’s website, their commencement, hosted in Morningside Park in NYC, “is a centuries-old tradition in which the President of the University grants degrees en masse to graduating students from eighteen schools, colleges, and affiliate institutions.” 

They further detailed that while separate schools (College of Business, School of Engineering, Honors College, etc.) host their own graduation ceremonies, per university tradition Columbia’s President is the only one who can confer degrees

What’s different? 

Per Columbia University’s website, thanks to COVID, the graduation ceremonies will be held virtually. This includes the main ceremony and auxiliary ceremonies for university colleges and multicultural grad ceremonies. 

What’s also different is the coverage. FOX News ran an article about Columbia University’s multicultural graduation ceremonies, staging Columbia was “planning” on hosting six additional ceremonies this year “according to their race and other aspects of how they identify”. 

FOX News also told readers they reached out to Columbia for comment, and it was “it’s unclear whether the ceremonies would necessarily exclude individuals of other races or backgrounds”. 

Elsewhere in Columbia University

While much ado is being made about multicultural graduation ceremonies, Columbia University’s grad students are currently on strike. The students are demanding higher wages & more benefits. Per The New York Post, their stated goal for these demands is to offset the rising cost of living in NYC. They have also stated demands for better investigations into sexual harassment & discrimination on Columbia’s campus. 

After an impasse between Columbia’s administration and its grad school union, thousands of grad students employed by the university walked out on Monday. According to a letter from Noah Rauschkolb, a striking grad student published in the Columbia Spectator, this isn’t the first time a strike has been called in the four years. 

The New York Post also detailed that grad students participating in Monday’s walkout would have their wages docked. They further reported faculty & administration has “vowed” not to turn in striking workers in support of their efforts. 

“The disappointment many of us feel is grounded not only in the significant burden that our campus would be compelled to bear in the event of a strike during one of the most stressful times in the history of students, staff, and faculty at Columbia, but because, after a long period of relative stasis, there has been considerable progress in our negotiations”, Columbia provost Ira Katznelson wrote. 

However, the letter from Rauschkolb painted a different picture, calling the provost’s letter, “not an accurate portrayal of the administration that I have observed over these last four years. I have seen one that is willing to use every legal maneuver at its disposal to stall negotiations while some provost waxes philosophically about the greatness of our University and the sacredness of advisor-advisee relationships. It’s getting old.” 

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