Weaving a Culture of Diversity and Inclusion
Susquehanna University held its first-ever Lavender Graduation Ceremony, an event to honor lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and ally students by acknowledging their achievements and contributions to the university.
The celebratory scene was one that David German ’84 could scarcely have imagined when he was a student, and he shed some happy tears at the sight of it.
German, the inaugural ceremony’s speaker, described his college experience as fulfilling, but lonely. A member of SU’s track team, a resident advisor and active in drug and alcohol awareness initiatives, German was a popular student on campus. But he never felt free to truly be himself.
Today, he is happily married to his husband, Andrew, and they have two sons, Ben, 17, and Matthew, 12. He is an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at George Washington University’s School of Medicine and Health Sciences.
He said he has high hopes for the future of the current graduates.
“It doesn’t mean all is good,” German said. “There may be students who aren’t out to their families, who were afraid to come. I think that would have been me 35 years ago. But I hope everyone came tonight who wanted to.”
Susquehanna’s Lavender Graduation Ceremony is one of two affinity ceremonies that honor the accomplishments and experiences of students from historically marginalized and underrepresented communities. Now in its fourth year, Umoja — the Swahili word for unity — honors students of color at Susquehanna. Umoja ceremonies are held in the fall to welcome first-year students and in the spring to celebrate graduating seniors.
“We welcome them to the community as they arrive, and we send them off to take the world by storm,” says Stacey Pearson-Wharton, dean of health and wellness and director of SU’s Counseling Center.
At the graduation ceremonies, Umoja participants receive a stole made of Kente cloth, a fabric native to the Ashanti region of Ghana, and seniors at the Lavender ceremony receive a lavender cord to wear during commencement exercises, if they choose. Lavender is the chosen color for its significance to LGBTQ history. It is a combination of the pink triangle that gay men were forced to wear in concentration camps and the black triangle designating lesbians as political prisoners in Nazi Germany. The LGBTQ civil rights movement combined these symbols of hatred, making them symbols of pride and community.