“I think it’s important for the school to fund [Cultural Graduation Ceremonies],” said Transgender, Other-identified, Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, and Allies for Diversity Club (TOBGLAD) President and Office of Equity and Inclusion (OEI) co-chair second-year Cole DiGrazia. “Because it’s sort of a celebration of our underrepresented communities, and I think it’s important for the school to show support for these communities.” DiGrazia is not the only student to feel this way; students of Whittier College have argued for years that the College should fund Cultural Graduation Ceremonies in their entirety. As stated in the previous issue of the Quaker Campus, Whittier College President Linda Oubré has allocated $10,000 from the President’s discretionary fund to help pay for the ceremonies this year and has stated her intentions to fundraise for financial resources to pay for Cultural Graduation Ceremonies in future years. The issue of how Cultural Graduation Ceremonies are funded has been controversial for years, and discussions extend back to the previous administration.
“Some students approached President Hertzberger . . . I don’t know if there was a meeting,” said Director of Communications Ana Lilia Barraza. “But there definitely was the question [presented] of how are these graduations being funded . . . [but] at that time, no change was made.” Oubré has directed the Dean of Students Office to look into ways to raise funding for Cultural Graduation in the future. “That’s the goal [for the College to pay for Cultural Graduation Ceremonies] . . . it’s still an ongoing conversation, but it’s definitely something that’s moving ahead,” said Barraza.
President of Black Men of Whittier College (BMWC) — an organization that provides black men who attend the College with a safe space to discuss their college experience, with the goal of improving the retention rate of black men at the College — and Vice President of the Black Student Union (BSU) third-year Nati Yitayew believes that Oubré has taken steps to reach out to marginalized communities on campus. “Oubré [has] done an amazing job with her [Tour of Black] L.A.,” said Yitayew. “I feel like everyone involved [the President’s office and Associated Students of Whittier College Senate] is doing a pretty good job of making sure that those seniors that have worked these last [few] years of their lives . . . are getting that final day of celebration that they [deserve].”
While he cannot speak for any of the other members of either BMWC or BSU, Yitayew does believe that the College should fund Cultural Graduation Ceremonies. Yitayew argued that Cultural Graduation is a ceremony for the student body, not any one specific club. “Cultural Graduation is not just for the club of black people, or the club of hispanics or the club of indigenous people; it is [for] the collective [student body],” said Yitayew.
Yitayew believes that Cultural Graduation Ceremonies work to provide recognition of the unique trials faced by members of marginalized communities at academic institutions. “[Cultural Graduation Ceremonies] look at the different hurdles that you had to face that maybe your peers that are not of your race [didn’t have] to face,” said Yitayew. “It’s not a supremacy thing. I feel like it’s more of just celebration . . . of your traditions and your values.”
“I think graduation, in general, at institutions like this have historically been for privileged straight white males,” said DiGrazia. “and I think it’s important to have a place for communities who maybe don’t fit that profile and who have to work harder to get into institutions like this to show that they have a place here too.”
Cultural Graduation Ceremonies operate like traditional graduations in the miniature, with speakers, entertainment — “At Lavender Graduation we are going to [have] an all-queer improv group,” said DiGrazia — and graduates. The OEI hosts Black, Latinx, Lavender — for LGBTQIA+ students — and Asian-Pacific Islander Cultural Graduation Ceremonies.
The Quaker Campus will continue to report on this story as it develops.