Graduation ceremonies for college students and high school students were suspended across the country as the Wuhan coronavirus forced the nation into social distancing and quarantine. While most higher education institutions put an indefinite hold on celebration for the graduates, hoping for a safer date in the near future, one Minnesota college singled out "self-identified" minority students for a special celebration. The general student body, however, need not apply.
St. Olaf College, about 40 miles south of St. Paul, posted a notice to its graduating seniors that all commencement activities would be postponed until late May or June of 2020 due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The announcement asks seniors and their families to continuously check back for updates, but so far, no plans have been set. An email to students from the St. Olaf Taylor Center for Equity and Inclusion, however, invited "students of color, international students, and LGBTQIA+ students" for a virtual graduation celebration without their classmates.
"The Taylor Center for Equity and Inclusion invites all self-identified domestic students of color, international students and LGBTQIA+ students and their family to be part of our Graduation Celebrations virtual event," the email sent last week stated. "The event acknowledges the value and uniqueness of students' experiences and serves to commemorate and highlight the accomplishments of individuals within their familial and cultural context. Each graduate who registers by April 26, 2020 will receive a hand-woven stole for the Multicultural and International ceremony and/or lavender cord for the Lavender ceremony."
St. Olaf, a private liberal arts college, made headlines in 2017 when a racist note left on a student's car caused racial justice protests that caused classes to be canceled. The note was later determined to be a hoax. An event featuring popular conservative personality Ben Shapiro was canceled a year later with students claiming his presence on campus on the one year anniversary of the protests would be inappropriate.
"I fail to understand why exactly my presence on campus has anything to do with a racial hoax," Shapiro said at the time.
St. Olaf is associated with the progressive and controversial Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and is known for its liberal student life and campus activism. In 2008, a professor from the school was terminated after bragging about stealing John McCain campaign signs out of his neighbor's yard. The Taylor Center, which "aims to foster an inclusive environment across the intersections of race and identity," describes its objective as helping minorities discover their "awesomeness factor."
The minority graduation email, signed by Taylor Center Director Dr. Maria C. Pabon Gautier, notates three separate virtual graduations based on no academic merit or chosen course of study: "Multicultural" for domestic students of color, "International" for international students, and "Lavender" for LGBTQIA+ students. According to students of St. Olaf, there has been no word from the school about when a larger student body graduation would take place, either virtually or in person. There was also no word if the already graduated minority students would be excluded from such an event.