#bombharvard and end their pro-black agenda,” Arizona resident Nicholas Zuckerman allegedly wrote in the comments section of a Harvard Instagram post of the University's 2017 black Commencement, the first of its kind. He allegedly continued: “If the blacks only ceremony happens, then I encourage violence and death at it [...] I’m thinking two automatics with extendo clips.” According to the U.S. attorney’s office, he then spammed other accounts referencing the black Commencement repeatedly with the hashtag “#bombharvard.”
Thankfully, Zuckerman is now facing federal charges for his threats. However—though he was the most violently vocal—he wasn’t alone in his thoughts.
Writer Charlie Kirk called the black Commencement “racist and a disgrace to all racial progress made over the last 60 yrs [sic].” Comedian David Smalley said he believed “the lines between ‘celebration’ and ‘segregation’ are getting blurry." Many others questioned the need for these ceremonies, even manifesting Martin Luther King Jr.’s alleged disappointment in arguments against holding these events.
All of this is not only frightening, but is completely and utterly baffling to me.
Cultural graduation ceremonies, such as the black, Latinx, BGLTQ, and first-gen Commencements held here at Harvard, are not unique to this campus. Universities across the country have been celebrating the graduation of certain underrepresented groups in their communities for decades. University of California, Riverside, for example, just held its 45th annual “Raza Grad” for Latinx Students. Virginia Tech hosts 10 different ceremonies for people of Jewish, American Indian and Indigenous, Asian American, African American, Latinx, Muslim, International, BGLTQ (or ‘Lavender’), Veteran, and substance abuse recovering communities. Yale, Stanford, and Columbia also have similar graduation events for underrepresented groups.
These cultural ceremonies are commonly hosted in addition to University Commencement proceedings and offer nothing more to the collegiate experience than a mere celebration of self at its closing. They are held to recognize the struggles of these particular groups and to honor the history and customs associated with each group, such as the donning of the kente cloth or partly conducting the celebration in Spanish. The University usually does not have any administrative involvement in these ceremonies. Typically, they are organized and led by students in prideful acknowledgement of the achievements individuals in their communities have made—especially given the fact that many of these communities were initially exploited in or excluded from this institution.
Arguments against these cultural graduation ceremonies and the outcry against their purported self-segregationist and racist natures are misguided and dangerous. While many social spaces on this campus are exclusionary, these Commencement ceremonies are not. They are open to all who identify with or choose to support the students being celebrated in these communities. Families, friends, and allies of black, Latinx, BGLTQ, first-gen, or other groups who have Commencement ceremonies are invited with open arms to these events. Even evoking segregationist rhetoric towards these welcoming, celebratory events undercuts the severity of the decades at Harvard where white and black students were actually segregated and weren’t allowed to sleep in the same building.
Calling these events racist or saying that they are regressive in the face of societal progress is laughable. When we have a government that dehumanizes the Latinx community, a country that’s tearing itself apart over police brutality against black and brown bodies, and an institution that still needs affirmative action to give all students an equal opportunity to even be admitted, one cannot claim that we have finally reached sufficient racial progress (whatever that is) “over the last 60 yrs [sic]” to now stop recognizing the history and culture of marginalized groups here on campus—or anywhere for that matter.
Progress is not couched in blindness. Wishing that underrepresented minorities and marginalized groups would stop getting together to speak other languages or give each other representative stoles during Commencement week is not progress. Ignoring the specific challenges and successes of certain races or ethnicities on campus by doing away with these ceremonies is not progress. Progress is being able to recognize the need for these kinds of events and acknowledging that an additional celebration of student achievements through these ceremonies does nothing to take away from the success of the Harvard community at large. Rather, these additional ceremonies are an example of the diversity, resilience, and growth at the end of its student’s academic and personal journeys here.
So when it’s my time to walk across the first-gen, Latinx, and University Commencement stage, I hope #bombharvard is a thing of the past. I’ll be proud to attend each graduation ceremony because I will be welcomed, and because I will belong.
Jessenia N. Class ’20, a Crimson Associate Editorial Editor, is a Cognitive Neuroscience and Evolutionary Psychology concentrator in Quincy House. Her column appears on alternate Fridays.