Special VPI Graduation Ceremonies for Everyone (Except for Straight White Christians)

I don’t know what was considered deficient with the main Virginia Tech commencement ceremony — too white? too heteronormative? insufficiently diverse? — but the university this year provided ten supplementary graduation programs for African-Americans, Hispanics, Jews, Muslims, gays, and other groups.

Apparently, the administration deemed it inadequate for some students to revel in what they shared in common as Hokies, graduates of one of America’s more prestigious universities, or as young people embarking upon their life journeys as adults, or even, dare I say, as Americans. They needed an opportunity to celebrate their cultural identities. Well, some of them did. If they were of English, German, Irish, Scotch-Irish, Italian, or Polish descent, or if they were Catholic, Protestant or some other denomination of Christianity, there were no special Cultural Achievement ceremonies to attend.

But if students were of African-American descent, they could participate in the university-sponsored Donning of the Kente ceremony. If they were of Hispanic-Latino background, there was the Gesta Latina. There was a ceremony for American Indians & indigenous people, and another one for Asians. There was a special ceremony for Jews and one for Muslims. There was a ceremony for international students, and a ceremony for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and ally community. Oh, and there was even one for students in recovery and one for veterans.

According to a Virginia Tech feature story, the special ceremonies advance the university’s mission to ensure the success of all students, particularly those from underrepresented and historically marginalized populations.

“One thing I always said is the Hokie identity should add to your other identities, not take away from it,” said Yolanda Avent, senior director of Tech’s Cultural and Community Centers. “There are ceremonies that really celebrate that and all our students’ unique identities.”

“It’s really important to our students to have their cultures represented in ways that sometimes aren’t represented in the greater graduation ceremonies,” Avent said. “I think a lot of it is affirming students in spaces where they are not always affirmed and seeing themselves.”

Bacon’s bottom line: In other words, Virginia Tech’s mission has morphed beyond educating students, and beyond making sure that all students feel welcome on campus. Now the university must affirm students’ cultural, religious, or racial identities — well, the identities of “historically marginalized” students at least. Apparently, maintaining one’s cultural identity is not something students and their families are capable of doing on their own. They need the university’s help.

A number of observations…

First, it’s not clear to what extent these cultural achievement ceremonies arose in response to a documented desire of the students or reflect the obsessions of the college administration. How many students actually attend these ceremonies? Does a significant percentage of all African-Americans, Hispanics, and other minority groups attend? Or do these ceremonies give Tech’s diversity bureaucracy something tangible to do and justify its existence?

Second, who invented these ethnic classifications? Just as, in many cases, there were no “tribes” in African countries until English colonizers decided to lump together inhabitants sharing linguistic and pre-colonial political affiliations, the cultural imperialists of U.S. universities are forging ethnic identities where none existed previously. A ceremony for Hispanics and Latinos? No such ethnic identity existed in Latin America — “Hispanic” identity is a construct of American intellectuals and politicians. A ceremony for “Asians?” Are you kidding me? At least most Latinos share a language in common. Students of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Indian, and Pakistani descent share nothing in common culturally but their ancestors’ origins on the world’s largest, most diverse continent!

Third, a Hokie graduate might have come from a “marginalized” background, but when he or she has graduated with a Virginia Tech degree — especially if it’s an engineering degree — it is ludicrous to call them marginalized anymore. Their career prospects greatly exceed those of average Americans.

At root, the Tech administration’s obsession with race, ethnicity, and sexual affiliation is all about virtue signaling. And if that obsession perpetuates the demographic Balkanization and identity politics that propel Leftist causes in the United States, that’s not a bug, as Tech’s computer scientists might say. It’s a feature.

Update: No wonder we’re seeing more and more commentary like this. At some point half the country (the conservative half) will wake up, asking, why are we subsidizing people who preach collectivism, identity politics and the destruction of our way of life?

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19 responses to “Special VPI Graduation Ceremonies for Everyone (Except for Straight White Christians)

  1. Separate but equal returns. The left was really for it all along.

  2. I, too, am bothered by this current focus on “identity”. What ever happened to the idea of the United States being a “melting pot”? Despite the current emphasis on ethnic identity, that idea and reality is still alive. I see it in my family and other families I know. My son-in-law was born to Chinese immigrants and grew up in Indianapolis, that quintessential mid-West city. He and his children, my grandchildren, are as “American” as any person of FFV heritage. A friend of ours, who works in and is part owner of a successful restaurant, came from China. Her parents live with her and still speak Chinese, but her children, one a graduate of VCU and one now attending UVa, are just like any other 18-22 year old. My wife’s hairdresser is from Vietnam. Her son, Travis, is an active young teenager, attending computer camps.

    I understand and agree with the idea of a university striving for diversity, aiming to bring together folks from myriad backgrounds. That is in line with our ideal of equality and has the benefit of showing students that they can learn something from people with backgrounds different than theirs. But, if we emphasize and celebrate the differences too much, we run the risk of losing sight of the “melting pot” and ending up with a society fractured into ethnic identities (sometimes called tribes).

  3. Huh. Sounds like no one was forced to go. No one was required to go. No one had to go and pick their team. I suppose, you could go to all of them if you felt it spoke to you.

    When I graduated from Tech, I didn’t have to go to anything. They would have mailed me my diploma. I went to two ceremonies because they spoke to me and the peer groups I felt represented me. Granted one was the full ceremony at Lane and the other was for my college, but no one made me. So if no one is making you go to the Hispanic Students’ ceremony or the like, quit being grumpy old white guys and let them enjoy their hard earned rewards.

    • Grumpy old white guys who understand that the “identity politics” of a different age meant our fathers and uncles and neighbors entered France via Omaha Beach and Utah Beach to fight for a different set of ideals. Or landed on places like Guadalcanal. They really haven’t thought this through, Mergus. This is a depressing regression. E Pluribus Unum.

  4. Dear Jim,

    See, Harry Byrd, Sr. didn’t have to mount “massive resistance.” All he had to do was wait.

    Sincerely,

    Andrew

  5. Grumpy old men and the retort is that REAL Americans fought and died on Normandy and Guadalcanal?

    Gee, I thought that melting pot sent a diverse group of ethnic minorities to those wars also but somehow they can’t retain their cultural identity but white guys can… the same white guys that made blacks in Virginia drink from separate water fountains and banned from “white only” lunch counters.

    So NOW… we talk about Identity Politics and virtue signaling…??

    someone has got into the right wing culture wars catnip here.

    lord.

  6. What’s your point, if any, Larry? If you’re going to take a poke at the right wing, at least make it coherent,

  7. Larry, sometimes you’re just a …. Most Americans came back from WWII, back from understanding the contributions to that effort made by all Americans, back from seeing the impact of racism on steroids in Hitler’s camps, and far more so than after WWI understood that we had some of the same problems right here we needed to solve. Truman started in 1948 with his desegregation order, which lead to integrated combat units in Korea. That next 20 years into the late 60s was my childhood growing up on military bases. Sure it took a generation or two after the war to make a dent in 350 years of institutional racism, and its not gone today. In part, and I sincerely believe this, that’s because too many on both sides benefit from its remaining. They don’t want it gone. Do you?

    You are free to doubt my commitment to that motto of E Pluribus Unum, and we have a president who couldn’t freaking translate it if he had to, but I remain disappointed in Virginia Tech for taking backwards steps. I don’t fully blame Tech because I’m sure these various student groups themselves thrive on their “identities.”

  8. re: ” They don’t want it gone. Do you?”

    That’s a nutty premise that emanates from the right.

    I still see racism and hate of people – brown, black, Muslim, etc.

    I don’t want it here but the idea that if we continue to talk about it that we want it is just plain bizarre.

    I have zero problems with people celebrating their own culture and ethnicity not when we had Irish or Italians or now when we have Hispanics and Muslims and transgender and whatever. As long as those groups are tolerant of other groups – and we all agree on what American is about with regard to equal opportunity – we’re good.

    You say I’m a “____”. Okay but what I’m for is the truth here not the various beliefs that some seem to have and who actually resent diverse people celebrating their own distinct culture and roots. What is the blue blazes is wrong about that?

    Geez guy.

    As long as we all agree on the ability for anyone in America to pursue the American dream – regardless of their color, or ethnicity, gender we should be united.

    But we have folks who still want to divide us – to exploit the differences and drive wedges between us.

    Tech is right. You guys are wrong. Young people at tech and in our society will tell you you’re wrong and it’s the young folks, thank God that are going to carry us forward not the old angry white guys.

    (by the way, I’m a military brat who grew up in the South when we did damage to black folks in many ways and most white folks had nary a word to say about it – they kept quiet. Only a few had the courage to – tell the truth and advocate for what is right – and it’s not done yet).

  9. I guess my question is who decides which groups get special ceremonies? If there is an open process and the VT administration work with any group of people that have a real interest from a significant number of affected people (to avoid spending money on just a couple people), I don’t see a problem. But if VT decides (government making decisions based on its views of who is deserving of recognition), I have a big problem.

    I guess I’m also troubled by lumping all white males together. For example, I would seriously resent being put in the same group as age-old racists like Ralph Northam whose family owned slaves and who as a doctor to be in a couple months appeared in blackface.

  10. “But we have folks who still want to divide us – to exploit the differences and drive wedges between us.” Yes. On. Both. Sides. You. Among. Them.

    It’s the same argument we had after the two sets of thugs came together in Charlottesville. You refused then to see that there were very bad actors on both sides happily engaging in violence and exploiting the situation, as there still are. I hate the Nazi’s and AntiFa equally – they are two sides of the same coin, just like Hitler and Stalin were the same deep down. Those who don’t learn from history….

    • The “thugs” in Cville did not live there – they came from elsewhere armed to the teeth and ready to rumble and they were met by folks who did not want them there .

      If those thugs went to any other city (like Boston and a few others), they were/also met by similar folks who tell them to leave.

      Trying to equate the two groups as the same – is just myopic.

      It’s like this conflation here that groups who want to self-identify as to their cultural identity are like those white supremacists who want to assert THEIR cultural identities and if they cannot then no one should be able.

      The DIFFERENCE is that some folks support diversity and the identification of their respective cultural identities – but they do in in peace and support others doing it, in peace also. They celebrate BOTH of their cultural identities – that is EXACTLY what is going on at Tech and it’s because those students DID ASK for a separate ceremony AND Tech supports it – just like Tech and other higher ed has for decades supported fraternities and sororities based, in some cases, on cultural or other “roots” , etc.

      There is NOTHING WRONG is that!!! It’s who America is and always has been – it’s the original “Identity Politics” as there are also dozens of such Caucuses in Congress and many State legislatures.

      How did folks get so off track on this?

      The DIFFERENCE is that these groups are NOT advocating against other groups or people or other cultural folks as long as those other groups do not threaten others – like white supremacists open avow.

      If folks don’t see this difference and they continue to rattle on and on about “identity politics” and “virtue signaling” and all that rot , it just reveals an inability to discern the distinct difference and/or a willingness to purposefully conflat these issues.

      Once more – we CELEBRATE diversity – when it recognizes and accepts others also celebrating their own identities and roots – WITHOUT advocating against others who are different from them.

      That’s the difference between “hate” groups and groups who form to celebrate their own roots.

      It’s NOT at all “tribal” for the more than 500 distinct and Federally recognized North American Tribes to group up according to their tribe and advocate for their causes. Calling that “identity politics” is dumb.

  11. This is idiotic (and embarrassing to this “old white” 1950 graduate).

    So this is how they use my contributions … hmm

  12. Why should we care how many graduation ceremonies a college has? Years ago, frats were often identified by some kind of ethnic affiliation — jock, Jewish, whatever — and they had their own parties.I don’t know why “identities” so set off conservative white guys. Do they feel threatened. When I graduated from a college that is a bit more leftist than VT 45 years ago, the only “identity” celebration we had aside from the formal one was pooling our bucks and renting a cliffside beach house on Nantucket Island for a week of debauchery.

    • If people want to organize their own private ethnic/racial celebrations, I would not have a problem with that. (Although just try to imagine a group of students celebrating their white ethnic identity!) My problem is with the university sponsoring these events as part of a larger “diversity and inclusion” initiative that could better be described as a “diversity and self-segregation” initiative. Instead of emphasizing what Hokies have in common, the university has taken it upon itself to emphasize their racial/ethnic/religious differences.

    • Again the issue is how does a group get entitled to a special event? As I wrote earlier, I have no problem with a group of people with something in common going to the University and requesting funds for a special graduation event so long as the number of requestors is reasonably large to warrant the expenditure of money, the amount of funding is reasonable and the process is open to all.

      But if the University decides who gets a special event and who does not based on other criteria, we have state-sanctioned racial, religious and ethnic discrimination. And that’s wrong. And as Steve points out, it plays right into the hands of Trump.

  13. And I spot a bad idea by pushing it out to the next steps. Fifteen ceremonies next year? Twenty the next? An official school committee to decide which ones qualify for university funding? Will Jim’s WASP celebration get funded? Logically it should….

    The reaction to all this got Trump elected once and is likely to get him elected again. Understand, that is part of my concern….this plays into his hands, too.

  14. I fear we are reverting back to tribal warfare. This is the default position for primitive societies. Hence tribal warfare is a common and ever present threat to all forms of government, including not least republican and democratic forms of governments. In this latter case, those within society seeking private power constantly try to build and increase their power by demagoguery aimed at tribal groups, both natural and contrived. Hence, political parties wage political war upon each other, for example, by driving wedges between various special interests, including those who can be ignited by appeal to race or gender or class, under the mantel of tribe. This has become a popular tactic within Academia since the political polarization of faculties, and allied administrators, since the 1960’s. This is compounded by the fact that most all students between 17 and 23 years old have very fragile identities, given at this age most are in search of an adult identity. Hence most experience a form of identity crisis that must be resolved if they are to productively and naturally grow into responsible and empowered adults who can effectively engage in society. Many faculty today abuse these kids, take advantage of them, to promote their own political bias and agenda. Hence, colleges and universites teach and promote identity politics that are ever more radical and collective, to forge social movements.

    This is manifest in the Virginia Tech segregation of graduation ceremonies that give special treatment to some while excluding others based on race and gender. Virginia Tech here, a public institution receiving taxpayer funds, is here acting in a grossly irresponsible manner, as it has done in past as well.

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