Following conversations with Associate Students of Whittier College Senate, President Linda Oubré has, agreed to partially fund this year’s Cultural Graduation ceremonies. The ceremonies, which include Lavender Graduation (LGBTQIA+), Asian-Pacific Islander (API) Graduation, Latinx Graduation, and Black Graduation, are put on by the Office of Equity and Inclusion (OEI) and are free for students to attend with an RSVP. The deadline to register for Cultural Graduation on OrgSync is this Friday, March 15.
The total cost of all Cultural Graduations for this academic year came out to $25,188, with $10,000 coming from the President and the remaining $15,188 allocated from ASWC Senate’s General Fund. In the past few years, the College has struggled to secure funding for the ceremonies, and the issue has resurfaced again as we approach the end of the academic year. This year, ASWC held conversations with the College on whether the school should fund Cultural Graduations or if the funding should come from the Senate’s budget. Although a long-term solution has not been reached, the decision to split the costs can be seen as a step towards finalizing the funding procedures in future years.
Although Cultural Graduations celebrate marginalized identities, it should be noted that Whittier College is a minority majority institution; according to whittier.edu, 69 percent of the overall student body is made up of students of color. Whittier College has been recognized repeatedly for its diversity and inclusive population, including being ranked #11 nationwide in campus ethnic diversity by the 2017 U.S. News and World Report Whittier College also receives funding for being a Hispanic Serving Institution, meaning that the College has a Hispanic population of 25 percent or higher. Ongoing debates over who should fund Cultural Graduation prompts larger conversations between ASWC Senate and the administration about how the College markets themselves versus the reality for students of marginalized identities.
“Cultural graduation is a beautiful event that recognizes the struggles that us marginalized people endure every moment of our lives,” said Social Justice Coalition (SJC) third-year Representative Nick Segura. “It’s empowering to . . . have an event that represents an appreciation and acknowledgement for the struggle that ourselves, [our] families, and [our] ancestors have endured.” Segura continues to say, “Cultural Graduations ought to be funded by the campus that specifically promotes itself under the financially attractive title of ‘equity and inclusion.’”
Fourth-year Samuel Landa, President of Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (MEChA), agrees. “When there’s an issue in terms of funding for the Cultural Graduation,” said Landa, “that’s a problem because if [the College] is getting that funding, and [the College] has that title, and they access a certain funding that they otherwise would not have, that leads me to question where that funding is going.” Landa added that, “It feels like deceit…[and] like a slap in the face. There’s no recognition of our talents or our work, and I think that [administration] really need to re-analyze the way that they go about saying that [the College] is a Hispanic-serving institution, because as a person of color, I walk on campus and I don’t feel like I’m being served to that extent.”
“The Senate loves supporting the Cultural Graduations,” ASWC Senate tweeted on March 4, “as they are an important celebration of the accomplishments of our marginalized students. However, it should not fall upon student body fees to fund these events. It should be apart of the College’s budget to fund these events.” President Linda Oubré responded to these concerns by allocating $10,000 from the President’s discretionary fund, so that the various Cultural Graduations could continue on as planned. “Whittier College’s Cultural Graduation celebrations recognize the importance of diversity on our campus and exemplify how Whittier’s work in the area of equity and inclusion helps leads to student success,” said President Oubré in a statement sent to Quaker Campus (QC), courtesy of the Office of Communications.
The conversations between ASWC Senate and administration on how Cultural Graduation will continue to be funded from year to year is ongoing, but it appears steps have been taken to ensure there is at least shared responsibility between administration and Senate moving forward. “Looking toward the future, I’ve directed the advancement team to work with the Dean of Students office to identify donors that would create a sustainable funding source for the cultural graduation celebrations,” said Oubré. The QC will continue to report on this story as it develops.