Multicultural graduation ceremony proposal gets turned down

By Courtney Klaus, Editor-In-Chief

Newman’s Director of Multicultural Engagement Joseph Shepard and a group of students say they are hurt and confused by a recommendation made by Newman’s commencement committee and approved by the president’s cabinet to deny their proposal for a multicultural graduation ceremony celebration and stoles.

Committee co-chair Scott Mudloff said the decision was made to maintain consistency with decisions the committee made in the past regarding smaller ceremonies.

Senior Annie Dang said she worked with several of the diversity clubs on campus- including the Multicultural Leadership Organization (MCLO), Kaleidoscope and the Asian Student Association (ASA) - back in November to propose a ceremony to celebrate graduates who come from multicultural, international or LGBT+ backgrounds.

The ceremony would have been a day or two before the usual graduation ceremony and would have been modeled after similar events at Wichita State University and Kansas State University, where students are given stoles representing their cultural organization.

“I really thought the multicultural graduation would be a great way to congratulate these students and that their efforts in celebrating diversity were much appreciated,” Dang said.

Shepard said after researching what other universities were doing, he presented the proposal to Newman’s commencement committee on March 28. He said when he left the meeting, he “didn’t feel good” about how the idea was received.

“Some of the committee members felt that holding that reception would be excluding a population that wouldn’t be involved,” he said. “My response to that was, ‘That’s how this population feels every day.’”

On Friday, Shepard said, he found out through the minutes recorded at the President’s Cabinet Meeting, which are sent to staff members, that the cabinet denied the proposal at the recommendation of the commencement committee because, according to the minutes, the committee “believes that for the Baccalaureate Mass and Commencement ceremonies, the focus should continue to be on all students.”

“I felt that maybe I failed my students because I thought that I had effectively shared with them at the commencement meeting that all students are welcome to come, that we will recognize all students, but the purpose of it would be for our multicultural, at-risk, vulnerable populations,” Shepard said.

Mudloff said the recommendation not to approve the ceremony was not motivated by any disapproval of the idea itself or who the ceremony was intended for.

“We thought that it’s a great idea. It’s a tremendous initiative,” he said.

Mudloff said the committee made the recommendation because it had recently turned down a proposal by another department for another small ceremony in addition to graduation because the committee wanted to avoid drawing focus away from the main baccalaureate and commencement ceremonies.

“In the last few years, the committee has made the focus of trying to do away with as many of these smaller receptions as it can and bring everything in and have the focus be on commencement and baccalaureate,” Mudloff said.

A baccalaureate service is a celebration, typically of a Christianity-based interdenominational or Catholic nature, that honors a graduating senior class. At Newman, the baccalaureate mass traditionally takes place the night before the commencement ceremony.

Mudloff said in the past, students would attend the smaller graduation celebrations and then skip the baccalaureate and sometimes the commencement itself.

Mudloff also said that Newman’s policy concerning stoles, which are decorative vestments worn during graduation, is that they are allowed for only approved academic honor societies.

But Dang said she is not satisfied with the response and feels like her voice was not heard.

She said she felt the initiative was particularly important to her graduating class this year because the class of 2019 participated in the expansion of cultural clubs on campus with the formation of ASA, MCLO, Kaleidoscope and the Black Student Union.

Dang said she is most upset because pride for her heritage is something she says she’s grown to embrace as she’s gone through college and something she hoped to showcase at her graduation.

“For me, getting the diversity stole means more to my parents than to myself. It means that I surpassed their expectations because I have a future ahead of me, and it was a future that wasn’t certain for them when they fled the Vietnam War,” she said. “This was the opposite of what I expected from Newman.”

PHOTO: MANY STUDENTS AND FACULTY MEMBERS are disappointed after Newman's commencement committee denied their request  for a multicultural graduation ceremony celebration and stoles. Courtesy photo, Newman Advancement