Harvard’s “black only” commencement

Earlier this month I wrote about Brown University’s “black only” commencement exercise. It turns out that Harvard had a similar event for its black graduates, the first it has ever held, according to the alumni magazine.

The magazine disputes the notion that the event was “segregated.” “Segregation could not have been a less fitting analogy,” it claims. As evidence, it notes that “friends and family members of all races, watched as students received their stoles, an occasion to reflect on the uniqueness of the black student experience and to mark students’ contributions to, not their separateness from, the academic community.”

By this reasoning, baseball was not segregated before Jackie Robinson because blacks could attend Major League games.

The magazine’s claim that the event was not a reflection on black students’ separateness from the academic community is contradicted by its account of the speeches given. One speaker talked of the problem of “being one of the few black people in predominantly white spaces.” He described his Harvard experience as “living underwater.” Another speaker complained, “our frustration is that these institutions [including Harvard] have not been designed for us.”

One can’t argue with someone else’s subjective sense of alienation. But when that sense is based in part on ignorance, and when the institution from which students feel alienated is stoking the ignorance, something is wrong.

This appears to be the case at Harvard. One of the speakers began his oration this way:

Three weeks before my first day at Harvard, I learned of the murder of Michael Brown. Months later, I listened as my professor struggled to explain the public policy that allowed his murderer to walk free.

Michael Brown was not murdered. Even the Obama Justice Department so concluded. Yet this graduate, a Harvard MBA, not only believed that Michael Brown was murdered in the months following the shooting, before the DOJ issued its report, but continues to believe it today.

Moreover, in this student’s telling, Harvard seems to have fueled his mistaken belief. His professor need not have “struggled to explain the public policy that allowed [officer Wilson] to walk free.” All he needed to do was cite the time-honored concept of self-defense.

Maybe the professor was too cowed or too ideologically blinded to do so. Or maybe the student lacked the intellect or the open-mindedness to grasp the notion.

Cowed and the ideologically blinded professors. Intellectually challenged and closed-minded students. These strike me as the real problems on college campuses today. Segregated graduation ceremonies are just a symptom.