May 15 2018

Students of Color Celebrate “Unity Across Difference”

More than 90 Mailman School graduates participated in the Students of Color Celebration-one of the first of its kind for any school of public health.

For the first time, graduating Mailman School students took part in a Students of Color Graduation Celebration, culminating as more than 90 students were presented with Kente cloth stoles. The Monday evening celebration, whose theme was “unity across difference,” was one of the first of its kind for a school of public health.

Held in Alumni Auditorium, the celebration was organized by the Black and Latinx Student Caucus and Advocates for Asian American Health with help from the Office of Student Affairs and the Office of Diversity, Culture, and Inclusion. Graduation ceremonies for students of color have gained in popularity over the last decade, largely for college graduations, and often as separate ceremonies by ethnic or racial background.

New York City Health Commissioner Mary Bassett gave the keynote address at the Mailman School celebration, which was inclusive to all students of color. She named racism as a root cause of stark health disparities and said fighting racism must be an integral part of practicing public health. She urged graduates to continue to take advantage of support provided by peers, mentors, and family understood in its broadest sense.

“I’m proud that you’re honoring yourselves, proud that you’re celebrating yourselves, and celebrating with family and friends,” said Bassett, an adjunct professor in the Department of Epidemiology. “You are so lucky to have family that extends beyond blood ties and extends to the solidarity of people with whom we share an identity, as people of African descent and people of color. There may come a day when we don’t need this solidarity, but that time hasn’t come.”

Three students performed a contemporary dance to Miguel’s “Now” to open the celebration. They were followed by remarks from Professor Raygine DiAquoi, director of the Office of Diversity, Culture, and Inclusion, and Dean Linda P. Fried. Jamal Joseph, professor of professional practice at Columbia’s School of the Arts, gave closing remarks.

Prior to the stoling ceremony, six student speakers, all members of the committee who organized the event over the past year, spoke to the importance of joining together across different backgrounds and intersecting identities.

“We will continue to find ourselves in spaces that institutionally and structurally exclude us,” said Erica Santos, MPH in Sociomedical Sciences. “This only reinforces the need for us to continue the movements for health equity, racial and social justice. We know we would not be able to do this work without those who came before us.”

“We share a hunger for an equitable and just world amidst our different identities and perspectives,” said Alex Sepolen, MPH in Sociomedical Sciences. “Our class entered the School at a time when the world was fraught with conflict, division, and uncertainty. In the face of forces that challenged public health’s very core principles, we united together to promote democracy and social change.”