Last week, parents in Beaverton Oregon, received a district email announcing that a local organization, the Beaverton Black Parent Union (BBPU), along with the Black Student Union, would be offering a district-wide “Black Student Graduation Ceremony.”
According to the email, the event will “be open to any senior student in-district who identifies as Black (including African-American, Afro-Latino, African or mixed-race Black).”
However, unlike the main graduation ceremony, the Black Student Graduation Ceremony will also welcome “those who may not have credits to participate in [the mainstream] graduation,” which is slated for a different date in June. According to an organizer of the event, this provision would allow for students who plan to accrue their final credits over the summer to partake in the annual celebration.
The Black Student Graduation Ceremony is not intended to replace the mainstream graduation, and no diplomas will be awarded. Rather, the event is intended to be a supplemental celebration. Further, a representative from the BBPU clarified that persons of other races who want to attend will not be excluded from the event.
According to the district representative who returned my request for comments, Beaverton School District is “not affiliated with the event” in an official or fiscal capacity. However, the concerned parent who contacted me about the story pointed to rising concerns about race-based ideology within the Beaverton district, indicating that the endorsement of a race-based event by the district was yet another step in what many parents perceive to be an alarming pattern of neo-segregationist ideology.
A representative from the BBPU points out that the concept of a blacks-only graduation celebration is not new. A separate event called the Black Baccalaureat, which is hosted by an organization called BEAM Village, has been held to honor Portland area students for “over twenty years.” According to the district email about the Black Student Graduation Ceremony, black Beaverton graduates are also encouraged to participate in the BEAM event.
The BBPU representative added that “historically the representation of Beaverton Students has been low [at the Black Baccalaureat event], and so we have aimed to build a tradition closer to home for our students while also supporting the partnership with BEAM.”
Beyond BEAM, blacks-only graduation ceremonies at the collegiate level are not uncommon. Harvard University made headlines in recent years for creating a separate commencement ceremony for black students. According to the Washington Examiner over 75 colleges are holding blacks-only graduation ceremonies. While more schools have taken up the practice in recent years, others have carried the tradition for decades. For example, Stanford has offered a blacks-only ceremony for 40 years. Columbia University recently announced a decision to host six supplemental commencement events for various identity groups. However, the practice has historically been less common in K-12 education.
The intention behind “build[ing] a tradition” of black student graduation ceremonies, according to the BBPU representative, is to “support the success, health, and safety of Black students in the district,” by “connecting our students to Black culture and history” and “build[ing] a community network of support across families.”
Advocates of the practice point to historic barriers to education faced by black Americans, which have had lasting impacts on lifetime educational attainment. According to an event organizer, a blacks-only event “gives space for families and students to support one another in the culturally specific experience of anti-black racism that our students and families experience.”
Critics of race-based ceremonies and events, including Peter Wood of the National Association of Scholars, point to a phenomenon he calls “neo-segregation,” which he describes as a damaging trend in education. According to Wood:
Many American colleges and universities that initially sought to achieve racial integration found themselves inadvertently on a path to a new form of racial segregation. In the old form of segregation, colleges excluded black students or severely limited the number who were admitted…By contrast, in the new form of segregation (neo-segregation), colleges eagerly recruit black and other minority students, but actively foster campus arrangements that encourage these students to form separate social groups on campus. Manifestations of this policy include racially separate student orientations, racially-identified student centers, racially-identified student counseling, racially-identified academic programs, racially separate student activities, racially-specific political agendas, racially-exclusive graduation ceremonies, and racially-organized alumni groups. In some cases, colleges also encourage racially exclusive student housing.
Segregation of racial and ethnic groups is intended to benefit the members of the minority groups who are thought by their college administrations to be vulnerable and in need of the life-enhancing benefits of group solidarity. The most readily apparent harm from such segregation is that it fosters a sense of insecurity. The members of the segregated group are taught to fear other groups, especially white students. They are encouraged to see themselves as victims or potential victims, and as heirs to past grievances. Training students to see themselves as vulnerable to the transgressions of a larger, intolerant or bigoted community is poor preparation for life in American society. Students who venture outside the segregated bubble may indeed encounter some hostile attitudes and racial stereotypes, but surely it is better to learn how to deal with these realities than to hide from them.
Segregation is harmful in another respect as well. It motivates an unending search for evidence that the larger community is hostile to the minority group. The concepts of “microaggressions” and “implicit bias” are the weaponized versions of this search. The music that accompanies segregation is a combination of anger and suspicion. Sentencing bright young people to four years of intensive isolation in a segregated community that plays this music on endless loop demoralizes students and undermines their education.
Some parents in Beaverton are concerned that the district, through its embrace of Critical Race Theory, has become complicit in “playing the music” of racial separatism.
In one of the most dramatic school board races in the country, candidate Jeanette Schade is running against what she sees as a troubling rise in race-based segregation in Beaverton schools. Jeanette has been the target of significant harassment related to her efforts to dissent against Critical Race Theory (CRT) ideology in education.