Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

Semester of SB 17: Students continue decades-long cultural graduation tradition

Manoo Sirivelu
Senior Katherine Ospina-Prieto stands for a portrait inside the UT Tower on Monday. She is majoring in race, indigeneity and migration, sociology and international relations.

Editor’s Note: The implementation of Senate Bill 17 meant the loss of diversity, equity and inclusion offices, positions and resources throughout campus. The Texan’s projects department reached out to various members of the UT community to find out how SB 17 changed their experiences on the Forty Acres.

With three majors and two capstone projects, senior Katherine Ospina already had a busy semester ahead when UT announced they wouldn’t be organizing cultural graduation ceremonies, including Black Graduation, Latinx Graduation, GraduAsian and Lavender Graduation. 

For decades, Latinx Graduation served as both a celebration for Latinx students and their families and a commemoration of their culture as well as the work it took to receive their degrees. After being a part of the now-defunct Multicultural Engagement Center’s Latinx Community Affairs agency for two years, Ospina decided she couldn’t let Latinx graduation be erased. 

“When we heard that we’re probably not going to have graduation, I remember thinking that that couldn’t happen,” said Ospina, an international relations, sociology and indigeneity and migration studies senior. “I couldn’t rest with the thought that something could be done and it won’t (be).”

In early February, following UT’s announcement of the cancellations, Texas Exes announced that they would be hosting cultural graduation celebrations. After hearing this, Ospina originally felt relieved, until she realized these celebrations would be drop-in events instead of full, separate ceremonies where students could walk and receive their honors in front of their friends and families. 

“(Texas Exes) are doing what they can but it’s not going to be a walk,” Ospina said. “I think that a lot of students would have been left disillusioned thinking that it’s something that it just is not going to be able to be.”

With a lack of support from the University and just a few weeks left before graduation, Ospina’s days are now filled with planning, organizing and scheduling an event that was previously handled by a team of full-time employees, all while finishing her last semester on the Forty Acres. 

“It’s such a tenant of Latino culture to keep on working and not sit in the victory of progress,” Ospino said. “That’s why this graduation is so pivotal because there’s nothing else like it. It helps to understand and acknowledge the growth that these individuals have gone through, and the sacrifices their families have taken.”

In the past, Latinx graduation included a full ceremony, held in both English and Spanish, where students would receive special stoles and walk across a stage. UT is considered a Hispanic-serving institution, which means that over 25% or more of its full-time student population is Hispanic. Despite this title, Latinx Graduation is historically the only graduation ceremony on campus to be translated into Spanish. 

Ospina emceed the 2023 Latinx ceremony, where she translated students’ various honors and achievements into Spanish, helping bridge the gap for the families of first-generation college students such as herself. 

“To strip (a Spanish translated ceremony) is to, in effect, strip the students and their parents of a true understanding of the valor and grit and resilience that this took,” Ospina said. “(Last year) so many of the parents came up to me and were so happy and emotional because they were like, ‘Thank you so much for translating, I understand this now, and I’m so proud.’”

Currently, Ospina and public health senior Liany Serrano are the two primary people working to make the event happen. The work includes securing funding, finding a venue, organizing times, scheduling and working with a lot of moving parts on top of attending class and completing schoolwork.

“There’s no institutional backing, so it’s been frustrating that a university that prides itself on being able to build all of these programs has failed its students of color and students that make up historically marginalized identities,” Ospina said.

However, despite the lack of funding, support, time and personnel, the 2024 Latinx Graduation will take place at Austin ISD Performing Arts Center on May 9. Because of Ospina’s work, the first class of Latinx Longhorns to graduate from a post-SB 17 UT will still have the opportunity to walk across a stage and share their celebration with their families in their own language. 

“I want Latino students to be able to fully feel supported, and if it’s not through an institutional lens, it’s through one of community,” Ospina said.

While SB 17 has stripped diverse students of dozens of programs, opportunities and celebrations that aided and supported them, Ospina said she believes that this year’s Latinx graduation is just one example of how marginalized students will be able to thrive on campus without University support, urging students to remain dedicated to uplifting and empowering their communities. 

“They wouldn’t be prioritizing these agendas if they didn’t know the immense power that these communities have,” Ospina said. “I want people to view these laws as an avenue for innovation. It’s not the first time that systems have oppressed people of color, and I find solace in that because we’re still here, and it’s the creativity that has brought us here.”

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About the Contributor
Trisha Dasgupta, Senior Life & Arts Reporter
Dasgupta is a journalism freshman from Frisco, Texas. She currently works as a senior reporter for the Life and Arts department and has previously covered news for The Texan. When she's not writing articles you can find her listening to Taylor Swift, Bruce Springsteen, or Billy Joel.