Harvard University is set to host its first school-wide commencement ceremony specially for Black students.
Organized by students, the event called Black Commencement 2017 will be held on May 23, with students from across Harvard’s college and graduate schools wearing African Kente cloth stoles over their traditional robes.
Although Harvard’s undergraduate college has had Black commencement events in the past, this one will be the first open to graduate students across the university.
Black Commencement 2017 is “not about segregation”, Michael Huggins, president of the Harvard Black Graduate Student Alliance, which is organizing the event, told reporters.
“The primary reason we wanted to do this is we really wanted to come together to celebrate Harvard Black excellence and brilliance,” said Huggins, who is set to receive a masters’ degree in public policy from the Kennedy School.
The ceremony comes as colleges and universities across the US have grappled with racial issues, including a focus on ‘microaggressions’ and the rise in prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Harvard, the oldest institution of higher learning in America, has also been attacked for previous ties to slavery.
Last year, the Harvard Law School agreed to redesign its crest, which was modeled on the family crest of an 18-century slaveholder.
Similar ceremonies for Black students have been held at other schools in previous years, including Columbia, Stanford, Berkeley and Temple, but it is a first at Harvard.
Organizers say the Harvard event is open to students and guests of any race or ethnicity, and that 170 students and 530 guests have signed up to attend.
Roughly 14 percent of Harvard’s undergraduates are Black, while five percent of all students, including graduate schools, are Black.