Independent Student Newspaper for the University of Texas at San Antonio

The Paisano

Independent Student Newspaper for the University of Texas at San Antonio

The Paisano

Independent Student Newspaper for the University of Texas at San Antonio

The Paisano

Ban on cultural graduations sparks controversy

Chloe Williams

On Jan. 1, 2024, Senate Bill 17 (SB 17) went into effect, causing all Texas universities and colleges to close their diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) offices. SB 17 was signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott to prohibit “any kind of preference based on sex, race, ethnicity or national origin.” 

The University of Texas at Austin Multicultural Engagement Center doors have officially been shut down, “which housed six UT-sponsored student groups — Afrikan American Affairs, the Asian Desi Pacific Islander American Collective, the Latino Leadership Council, the Native American and Indigenous Collective, Queer People of Color and Allies, and Students for Equity and Diversity.”

Among other restrictions, UT will no longer be allowed to fund cultural graduations. Cultural graduations are “campus-wide events that honor all students’ achievements and academic excellence while incorporating traditions and practices that uplift our communities.” 

“Student groups can work with the Texas Exes, the alumni organization, to continue to host them ‘in some format,’” Vice President of Campus and Community Engagement LaToya Smith said.

“The four celebrations — Lavender Graduation, GraduAsian, Latinx Graduation and Black Graduation — will all take place in the Alumni Center on either May 8 or 9, ” Texas Exes Vice President of Communications Dorothy Guerrero said.

Due to the bill’s new requirements for colleges and universities, many students and those in the community have begun to speak out about their thoughts and feelings toward the bill. “That’s already disheartening when you’re not feeling supported by the university that you go to. When you’re not feeling congratulated and like they’re proud of you, when you spend four years and thousands and thousands of dollars to attend the school, it feels like a stab in the back,” Vashéd Thompson, a UT public relations sophomore, said. 

UT Student Government’s student executive and assembly board leaders said, “These attacks on DEI are part of a larger effort to undermine academic freedom and uphold white supremacy.”

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, said, “Senate Bill 17 will be a giant step backward in our quest for equal opportunity and equal worth for all. I worry that stifling diversity, equity and inclusion on our academic campuses will breed the negative attitudes and behaviors typically attributed to ignoramuses while stifling the development of tolerant, enlightened communities.”

There are a lot of changes being made to Texas schools. Still, some things that the bill will not affect are “Academic course instruction, research and creative work regarding race, sexual orientation, ethnicity and gender are also still protected, as are data collection, student recruitment and activities to enhance student success that are not implemented in regard to race, sex, color or ethnicity.”

The UT System has developed guidance to support its institutions in implementing the bill’s new requirements. They made a statement saying the “UT System remains committed to supporting its community members who come to our institutions from across the state and around the world and bring a variety of perspectives and experiences.”

UTSA’s administration has not yet addressed how SB 17 will affect the cultural graduations previously held by the university. These included but are not limited to UTSA’s  Lavender Graduation, Latinx Graduation, Black Graduation, which the Multicultural Student Center hosted. Lavender Graduation recognizes and celebrates LGBTQ+ students and their accomplishments. Latinx Graduation is “a culturally empowering celebration of graduating students that honors the many traditions that encompass Latinx identities. The ceremony is bilingual to be more inclusive of families and friends who may not be English dominant.” Black Graduation’s purpose is “to honor African and African American students who through unyielding determination have successfully completed an undergraduate or graduate degree.”

In a statement to The Paisano, Associate Vice President for Strategic Communications and External Affairs Joe Izbrand said, “These celebrations are scheduled closer to commencement dates so, while there are conversations underway to explore the best way to meet the wishes of students, it will likely be several more weeks before we have information to share. Regardless, we will be compliant with Senate Bill 17.”

As more information regarding SB 17 is released, The Paisano will provide updates.

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About the Contributors
Elizabeth Hope, Staff Writer
Elizabeth Hope (she/her) is a senior and a communication major at UTSA. She is originally from Montana and moved to Austin when she was 11. In 2022 she earned her associates degree in journalism from Austin Community College. After graduation she hopes to pursue a career in journalism or policy and advocacy for environmental issues. Outside of work and school she enjoys playing piano, reading and making jewelry.
Chloe Williams, Managing Editor
Chloe (she/her) is a senior majoring in Business Marketing with a minor in Adaptive Decision Business Models. On her off days you can find Chloe thrifting, being a self-proclaimed food critic or outside enjoying nature. This is her third year at The Paisano and she is excited to serve as Managing Editor.

Comments (3)

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  • E

    Evan BainFeb 29, 2024 at 7:12 pm

    Great article. I was unaware of the majority of the information presented and glad this was brought to my attention.

  • K

    Kiffin HopeFeb 20, 2024 at 8:43 pm

    Well researched and written. A great front page story and certainly pertinent to what’s happening in Texas and this country.

  • T

    Tom BrownFeb 20, 2024 at 2:27 pm

    I get the impression that forces are at work beneath the surface to undermine the spirit and integrity of the law in any way possible.