After canceling a tradition of allowing minority students to wear ethnic sashes at graduation, Fresno Pacific University has reversed course and is opening the policy up to any student who wants to wear a special stole.
While in the past, the university covered most of the cost of the sashes, students will now be responsible for buying them.
“In the past, these sashes were limited to underserved or underrepresented groups … when underrepresented populations were in the minority at the university,” Fresno Pacific posted to Facebook on Thursday. Now, the university will allow “all students who desire to wear ethnic sashes to do so.”
Last month, the Christian school announced the change in an email to students and staff, saying that the 20-year policy allowing cultural stoles would no longer be allowed, and would be replaced with a display of international flags at commencement representing “every tribe and nation.”
The decision was met with backlash, and a petition that garnered more than 14,000 signatures alleged the decision had been made in part due to complaints from white students who did not receive the sashes.
“Those coming from minority groups, or labeling themselves as anything else aside from white, should get to proudly represent their roots when they receive their college degree. We overcome so many obstacles, both financial and cultural, to get to that stage on graduation day, and with our presence and sash make the statement that we are, one by one, making a difference in our communities and cultures,” said FPU student Karen Vargas, who started the petition.
In a news release Thursday, Fresno Pacific said the policy was changed in an attempt to “find new ways to celebrate the diversity of the population” at graduation ceremonies.
“The university is not opposed to students wearing appropriate ethnic sashes associated with their family origin … ,” the statement said. “Students with family origins in the Middle East, South America, Europe, Asia or other world ethnic groups will now all be allowed to bear the witness of their ancestries. As a Christian university, we will be able to fully celebrate the diversity represented in the church and model a unity that is rarely experienced in formal ceremonies. Our hope is that all graduates experience the dignity in diversity and the significance of their contribution to the world.”
Fresno Pacific professor Larry Dunn had spoken out against the cancellation, saying it reflected a “surprising degree of racial, ethnic and cultural blindness” that made students feel slighted.
“One can legitimately question whether it is ‘fair’ to allow this for some students and not others, but we do well to remind ourselves that fairness and equality are not the same … ” Dunn said. “This change implies that 20 years of celebrating underrepresented ethnic minority communities is long enough.”