‘A chance to build unity’: Pitt to host special graduation for students of color


TPN File Photo

Pitt graduates after their 2021 graduation at Acrisure Stadium.

By Khushi Rai, Senior Staff Writer

The Office of Inclusion and Belonging is hosting The Gathering, a special graduation ceremony to acknowledge and celebrate graduating students of color, for the first time this year. 

According to Clyde Pickett, vice chancellor of the Office for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, the event is meant to foster inclusion for students of color by creating an opportunity for “internal celebration.”

“It’s a chance to build unity and community with one another,” Pickett said. “Ultimately, the success of our students is our most important priority, so I think any elevation and acknowledgment of our students that allows for space for cultural exchange, cultural identity and cultural awareness is a good thing.”

The Gathering will be held in the William Pitt Union Assembly Room on April 29 from 7-10 p.m. The event is meant to empower, embrace and engage students of color and their families.

Emiola Oriola, director of the Office of Inclusion and Belonging, said the committee came together during the planning stage to exchange ideas with student leaders from cultural organizations on campus. He said the goal was to honor their diverse cultures.

“In these conversations, the committee listens to requests, desires and innovative ideas that resonate with students, meet them where they are, connect with their generation and reflect on their diverse backgrounds,” Oriola said. “This student input, along with the long tradition and history of the Baccalaureate at Pitt and across the country, help shape this event.”

Mati Castillo, a senior Spanish and anthropology major and the president of the Latinx Student Association, said she doesn’t view The Gathering as a “separate” or “segregated” celebration, but rather an “additional” celebration.

“I think it’s important to acknowledge — with Black students, Asian students, Hispanic Students, Indigenous students, first-gen, low income, they have been traditionally excluded from being able to access higher education,” Castillo said. “They have not always been wanted and they’ve not always been supported.”

Alysia Colón, a senior public service major and vice president of LSA, said the OIB informed her that students should dress in their cap and gown for the event and will receive stoles. She said she plans to attend for multiple reasons.

“One of the reasons for sure was that my specific college wasn’t having a smaller ceremony,” Colón said. “I really wanted a smaller ceremony for my family to go to. The second reason was I’ve known the person who reached out to me, Sherdina Harper [assistant director of inclusion and belonging for Student Affairs] … since I was a freshman, so I already had personal connections to the people who were organizing it.”

While Castillo is excited about the celebration, she acknowledged that the lack of diversity at Pitt was a hard adjustment for her. According to OEDI, 75.2% of undergraduate students identified as white, while 6.3% of undergraduate students identified as Hispanic or Latino in fall 2021, the most recent data available. Castillo said the University did not offer her enough support during her undergraduate years, and said many students mispronounced her name and she was once even asked if her family “was part of the cartels in Mexico.”

“I understand that [Pitt] is very diverse for a lot of white students who’ve never been in diverse communities before,” Castillo said. “But for those of us who are from Texas, southern California and New Jersey, this is the whitest place we’ve ever been. I think the University fully is not aware that it has so many students of color who have felt unsupported and forgotten. So this is a little thing for us to be able to celebrate with our families.”

Oriola said Pitt has previously held events that celebrated students of color.

“While this is the first year of ‘The Gathering,’ Pitt has supported this endeavor in past years in partnership with the African American Alumni Council,” Oriola said. “The Gathering was formally called the Baccalaureate Ceremony, which was supported by students. AAAC has been a great partner and continues to support this event.”

Castillo said LSA will host its own Latinx graduation because cultural graduations are common in other universities throughout the country. She said it’s “incredible” for students to hear their name pronounced correctly and have their graduation ceremony in the language that their parents and grandparents can understand.

“I think we need to be specific,” Castillo said. “I think there are times where we come together as you know, students of color, but then we also need to get to celebrate the specific struggles and the specific history of our communities.”