Black Harvard students are holding their own, separate commencement ceremony two days before the ceremony being held for everybody else.
In a first for the Ivy League school, the event will take place on May 23, ahead of the main commencement on May 25. According to The Boston Globe, 170 students have signed up, plus 530 guests.
Graduating students will wear a stole – a kind of scarf – woven from African kente cloth during the ceremony, and hear from keynote speakers.
It is being funded by a $27,000 pot of donations. Some of the money has been provided by Harvard institutions.
Although the event is focused on black students, students of other races are not banned from attending. Students who opt for the separate event will also go to the main commencement two days later.
However, the idea has not met with universal acclaim. “Somewhere Martin Luther King Jr weeps,” wrote one contributor to the Chicks on the Right conservative blog. “Segregation is segregation, whether it’s forced on you or you choose to segregate yourself.”
In an interview with news site The Root, organizer Michael Higgins said: “This is not about segregation. It’s about fellowship and building a community.”
Black commencement ceremonies already exist at some other universities including Stanford, Temple and Columbia – but this is the first time one has been held at Harvard.
This year’s event will focus on graduate students, though organizers say they want to hold one for undergraduates next year.