Wearing my culture with honor at commencement as a college graduate of color should be my right.
Graduation season is right around the corner and it’s almost time to celebrate but one thing still remains: there is still a gap in the number of student of color graduates and white graduates. According to the Vanguard’s Analysis of Retention and Graduation Rates, the gap between student of color and white graduates has gotten smaller. While this improvement is great, it took a period of time to see such an increase. For students of color who defy all odds to walk across that stage in front of family and friends, it is a glorious moment and some have found ways to display their pride.
Most graduates use their stoles (which are awarded at cultural graduation ceremonies to appreciate student accomplishment) as a way to celebrate their distinct ethnicities on their commencement day and I, as a Nigerian woman, was expecting to do the same. Then l I found out that Vanguard doesn’t allow it.
Try and imagine my disbelief when I found out that a university that prides itself in diversity does not allow its ethnically diverse students to honor their heritage at commencement by wearing ethnic stoles.
It makes no sense that these stoles are given to us at our respective diversity graduations but we are not allowed to wear them as we walk on commencement day. According to Celina Canales, who is a part of the Chair and Vice-Chair of the Commencement Council, the school honors the academic costume code for graduation academic attire. It’s also about the unified look and approach that Vanguard is after by not allowing students to wear their ethnic stoles, but it does not seem worth stripping students of their right to honor their heritage. Each student that walks across that stage is different and has been through a specific journey that no one else can walk.
To me, being a Black woman navigating through life and college has been a journey and to finally walk across the commencement stage will be a dream come true. Wearing my ethnic stole allows me to show pride in my achievement, especially with the history of my ancestors. The stole isn’t to be flashy or to have all attention on me but simply a way for me to wear my race with pride. I’ve spoken with other friends who are students of color and they are also upset at the fact that this rule has been in effect since the beginning.
Earlier this month, student leaders of Intercultural Student Programming presented the first “Cultural Stoles at Commencement Proposal” that was denied for this year, but does not mean students of color should give up.
Four student leaders representing El Puente, APIC, BSU, and commuter students met with the Chair and Co-chair of the Commencement Council on April 3. It took one student, Adoniram Morales, to speak up about the issue, and I thank her for being a trailblazer and starting the discussion.
To students of color, continue to push for the opportunity and right to honor your heritage on one of the most important days of your collegiate career. The fight does not end here, create more proposals and meet with the Commencement Council each year until your voices are heard.
According to the Chair and Vice-Chair of the Commencement Council, they are not opposed to a future where students are allowed to wear their ethnic stoles.
“We are committed to developing policies that reflect and support diversity and inclusion of the student body while continuing to honor academic tradition. The decision on cultural stoles is complex and we are still in the preliminary stage of this discussion. The Commencement Council is committed to continuing this discussion and desires to come to a solution that upholds both academic tradition and inclusion,” the Council said.