Six virtual graduation ceremonies for students of various ethnic and socioeconomic communities are scheduled to take place this May. These cultural ceremonies, some of which have been conducted for more than 20 years, are optional and supplementary to the main Commencement day ceremonies.
Five of the ceremonies will be run by the Carl A. Fields Center for Equality and Cultural Understanding and are scheduled to take place on May 22. These include the Latinx, Pan-African, Middle Eastern and North African, Asian Pacific Islander Desi American, and Native American graduation ceremonies.
The sixth ceremony, for first-generation, low-income (FLI) students, is run by the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students (ODUS) and will take place on May 14.
Recently, a controversial Fox News article about Columbia University’s affinity-based graduation ceremonies caused major backlash on Twitter, with Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) likening them to “segregation.” Columbia’s twitter account argued that the reports “misrepresent” the true nature of their ceremonies.
Victoria Yu, program coordinator for the Fields Center and overseer of the ceremonies, wrote in an email to The Daily Princetonian that the ceremonies are designed for inclusivity.
“These cultural graduations — for undergraduate and graduate students — aim to provide an opportunity for the graduates, family, friends, and loved ones to celebrate the accomplishments of the graduating class in a cultural and personal way,” Yu wrote.
The ceremonies will feature an array of keynote speakers, musical performances, student speakers, and other culture-specific events. Yu also clarified some of the differences between the traditional Commencement ceremony and the culture-based ceremonies.
“The ceremonies provide a space for each graduate to have their own time to shine as their name is announced,” Yu wrote. ”Each graduate is then presented with a cultural stole (specific to that graduation) for them to wear proudly and represent their culture and heritage throughout the rest of the University’s Commencement festivities.”
These stoles will be directly mailed to the students this semester as the ceremonies will run virtually this year.
The Fields Center also works with student planning committees and affinity groups to help run the ceremonies. They invite speakers, plan events, and would normally book the venue and plan an in-person celebration.
Around 450 students registered for the Fields Center ceremonies this year, more than 50 percent greater than the 297 registrants for the class of 2018.
Registration for the Fields Center ceremonies closed on March 26 but is still open for the FLI celebration.