Civil Rights Commissioner Warns Schools Touting Segregated Programs and Graduation Ceremonies They Are in Violation of Civil Rights Act

U.S. Civil Rights Commissioner Peter Kirsanow has warned two schools that have announced programs or graduation exercises that intend to segregate students by race or other identifying feature they are in violation of the Civil Rights Act.

In recent letters to both California Polytechnic State University and Oakton Community College in Illinois, Kirsanow, writing as a single member of the commission, reminds the schools’ officials that they are “subject to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The commissioner reminded officials of both schools Title VI of the Civil Rights Act provides:

… no person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subject to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

In a letter written April 25 to Jeffrey Armstrong, president of California Polytechnic State University, Kirsanow addressed the issue of the school’s “racially segregated and discriminatory graduation ceremonies.”

The commissioner described in his letter Cal Poly’s “Spring 2022 Cultural Commencement Interest Form” that students can submit in order to choose their “cultural commencement” identity group:

  • American Indian and Indigenous
  • Asian Pacific Islander Desi American
  • Black
  • Chicanx/Latinx
  • Disability
  • Jewish
  • Lavender (LGBTQ)
  • Monarch
  • Southwest Asian North African (SWANA)

“Most of these separate commencements are based on racial and/or ethnic identity,” Kirsanow wrote to Armstrong. “It has apparently escaped the notice of Cal Poly’s Office of General Counsel that separating students based on race or ethnicity remains illegal in 2022.”

The commissioner asserted in his letter:

There appear to be no special commencement ceremonies for white students who are not disabled, Jewish, LGBTQ, or in the country illegally. Imagine for a moment if this were reversed. Consider if Cal Poly held a “European American Commencement” to “Celebrate the culture and accomplishments of European American students,” but no comparable ceremony for African American students. It would logically appear that Cal Poly was singling out white students for special celebration with food, guest speakers, and entertainment and elevating these students because of their identities.

“The Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed nearly 60 years ago,” the commissioner stated. “Please cease and desist from segregating and discriminating against students on the basis of protected characteristics.”

On May 11, Kirsanow wrote to Joianne Smith, president of Oakton Community College about publicity information released by the school that identifies the “Emory Williams Academy for Black Men,” described as “a community designed for Black male-identifying students” that is “led by dedicated Black faculty and staff.”

“Educational institutions that receive federal funding cannot discriminate against students of any race, including white students,” Kirsanow wrote. “In fact, ‘entire entities receiving federal funds – whether governmental entities, school systems, or universities – must comply with Title VI, rather than just the particular program or activity that actually received the funds.’”

The civil rights commissioner also noted Oakton’s Emory Williams Academy for Black Men “also violates Title IX,” which provides “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity.”

“Although there are some exceptions for single-sex educational institutions and programs, none of the exceptions are likely to apply to the Emory Williams Academy or Oakton Community College,” Kirsanow wrote.

In comments to The Star News Network, Kirsanow said the “rapidly growing trend toward resegregation in schools and colleges isn’t only unlawful, it’s dangerous.”

“Elevating immutable characteristics and ‘diversity’ over commonality and unity leads to division and strife,” he added. “You’d expect that educators with even a modest grasp of history, law, and logic would know that. But it seems they’re intent on repeating history and hoping for a less disastrous result.”

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Susan Berry, PhD, is national education editor at The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].




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