The University of Toronto is hosting, funding and blessing a segregated graduation ceremony for black students only on Thursday, The Canadian Press reports.
Canada never had Jim Crow laws that separated people on the basis of race, but at least one university is going the neo-segregation trend that is sweeping American universities, where black students demand separate housing, classes and graduation.
The event marks the first of its kind at any Canadian university. The U of T is the largest in the country. Organizers of the commencement say it is supposed to highlight alleged barriers that confront non-whites in academic institutions.
Co-organizer Jessica White says she wants to address the “subtle” racism that she says she and other black students face.
“We wanted to take a moment because of the different forms of adversity that they’ve had to face while at university and kind of congratulate them for making it to the finish line,” Kirk said told The Canadian Press (CP).
Kirk was inspired to help organize the ceremony after speaking to her friend Nasma Ahmed, who had just returned from a segregated graduation at a California university. Kirk soon discovered that the black-only graduation was catching on with other American universities, including Harvard.
Kirk and Ahmed requested permission from the U of T’s administration, and they received the OK to go ahead.
Kelly Hannah-Moffat, the university’s vice-president of human resources and equity, said it was the first time the university had received such a request and that it would happily consider other proposals by other racial groups at the school to have their graduation ceremony separated on the basis of race.
“The goal is to create a strong pipeline of people who want to make U of T a place to study and encouraging those students to come to U of T and look at U of T as an option, a space where they can come and learn and feel very comfortable and contribute to that community,” Hannah-Moffat told CP.
Kirk says the segregated ceremony is a positive step forward but demands more long-term efforts to eliminate the barriers that she insists remain for black students. Kirk admits she has not encountered any racism while at the university, though she claims “microaggressions” plagued her every day.
“I’ve experienced, and have seen, that black students are more likely to be talked over and interrupted in the classroom,” she said. “Although those are smaller experiences, it takes a toll.”
Not everyone is praising the initiative.
A column in what is described as a “local right-wing newspaper” described the graduation as an example of “manufacturing victimhood,” while social media commentary has been replete with harsh criticism of the ceremony as a bizarre case of blacks asking for segregation after years of civil rights legislation that emphasized inclusion.
“U of T black students want separate graduation ceremony, for years fighting for inclusion, now want segregation, King wasted his time,” wrote one Twitter user.