Georgetown University graduate students have launched an email campaign calling for the inclusion of graduate students in multicultural graduation ceremonies.
The campaign asks students to send a template email to Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson calling on the university to invite graduate students to multicultural graduation ceremonies, which are currently exclusive to undergraduate students. These ceremonies include events for Asian American and Pacific Islander students, Black students, and Latinx and Chicanas/Chicanos.
Jhoselin Beltran Contreras (GRD ’21) and Jennifer Argueta-Contreras (GRD ’21) launched the campaign after learning graduate students would not be included in the multicultural graduation ceremonies scheduled to be held virtually May 20. These events are a space for students of color to celebrate their achievements prior to graduation. Upon attendance, each graduate is honored with a stole.
The email criticizes Georgetown for failing graduate students by denying them access to multicultural ceremonies for years and for the lack of institutionally acknowledged cultural spaces for graduate students.
“There is no established and institutionally-acknowledged cultural space at Georgetown University for graduate students of color. Georgetown is working toward combating racial injustice, yet falls short for graduate students,” the email campaign reads.
Beltran Contreras said multicultural graduations are important moments for families. At Beltran Contreras’ own undergraduate Latinx ceremony at the University of Maryland, her grandmother who does not speak English was able to attend and celebrate her graduation as a family.
“I was able to share that with her and it made me feel comfortable. It made my family so comfortable, and that was important to me,” Beltran Contreras said in a phone interview with The Hoya.
For first-generation students like Argueta-Contreras, a multicultural graduation ceremony is an important way to celebrate achievement in the context of a wider community, Argueta-Contreras wrote.
“I am a first-generation Latina student, so having made it where I am today means that my accomplishments are not just for myself. They are for my parents, my community, and my ancestors who did not have the opportunities that I have today,” Argueta-Contreras wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Over the last year, equity and inclusion have been a focus of graduate student advocacy at Georgetown. Just two months ago, the Georgetown Graduate Student Government met with the university to discuss racial justice initiatives beyond the undergraduate level. Now, Beltran Contreras and Argueta-Contreras have added their voices to the fight for increased inclusivity at the graduate level.
Multicultural ceremonies are important for students of color, and the university’s failure to include graduate students undermines their accomplishments, according to Beltran Contreras.
“I think that a lot of students of color feel that way, and just because we’re in the graduate program that doesn’t make the accomplishment less significant,” Beltran Contreras said.
Multicultural graduation ceremonies are likely to be offered for future graduating classes, according to a university spokesperson.
“While it is unlikely the University can offer a graduate multicultural ceremony this year, the Graduate School is committed to working with GradGov, CMEA, and BIPOC students to offer a ceremony in 2022,” a university spokesperson wrote in an email to The Hoya.
University officials plan to meet with Beltran Contreras and Argueta-Contreras on May 12 to discuss future plans for graduate student inclusion in multicultural ceremonies, according to a university spokesperson.
Last month, the university announced plans to host an in-person graduation ceremony at Nationals Park, which will also be virtually broadcast for friends and family who cannot attend.
Graduate students deserve an invitation to attend the multicultural ceremonies, especially in light of the university’s recent announcement that the Class of 2021 will have an in-person graduation, according to Grace Rector (SFS ’21), who shared the email campaign in a GroupMe for on-campus students.
“Graduation is really significant and we’re just grateful that it’s happening in person,” Rector said in a phone interview with The Hoya. “But I think that graduate students deserve just as much to have their multicultural ceremony.”
For Argueta-Contreras, the movement to include graduate students in multicultural graduation ceremonies is also meaningful for future students.
“Future multicultural graduate students deserve recognition and should not have to face this challenge. Our goal is to advocate for students in the present and for future generations,” Argueta-Contreras wrote.