The Vassar Students Association authorized the Black Commencement Committee (BCC) as an organization separate from the Senior Class Commencement Committee (SCCC), institutionalizing an informal split in the committee earlier in the year.  “This is not a committee for the present,” said the new committee’s chair, Rita Grosvenor ’91,  “it will stay as long as the need exists.”  President Fergusson gave the decision her blessing, telling The New York Times,  “I think something good has come out of a very difficult situation.”

One student called the creation of the BCC “a giant leap backwards that is symbolic of the disintegration of our campus community.”  Others questioned the precedent that a separatist committee of this sort would set, and whether it would encourage the formation any number of minority commencement committees.  But, Grosvenor said, “The only precedent we’re setting is that it’s O.K. to be different.”  The object of the new committee, she said, “is to provide an outlet for cultural and social needs that are not being met.”  She added that, while planning special events such as a trip to Great Adventures theme park and the Baccalaureate service and reception, the BCC would continue to collaborate with the SCCC.     The Miscellany News

At Commencement time, Vassar’s innovation was sometimes deplored and sometimes misunderstood.  Syndicated columnist Richard Reeves, the stepfather of a graduate, wrote in a column, “President Fergusson invited Jesse Jackson to speak, for a fee paid by the school, at a black-run baccalaureate….  Jackson blamed the White House for campus divisions.  Most parents seemed ignorant of these events.  The black students did attend commencement ceremonies after their own program, many of them wearing colorful tribal sashes from Ghana or Togo over their gowns.”  Reeves excoriated the “administrators and instructors unwilling to teach that in the life beyond this isolated pastoral environment, the answer to petty demands is usually ‘no.’” 

Clarence Page, the African-American columnist for The Chicago Tribune, imagined, as did others, that the college had a separate Black Commencement.  In “Solidarity Needn’t Keep Blacks Out of the Mainstream,” Page reported that at “super-liberal Berkeley, for example, Hispanic students held separate bilingual commencement exercises this year.  Black students at Vassar and Northern Illinois University did the same, although in English and with an ‘Afrocentric’ orientation.”   William F. Buckley, Jr. shared the same delusion with his readers—missing also by two years the event’s numerical status—writing, “Vassar’s 127th commencement became two commencements, the second one organized by black students.”   The Seattle Times, The Chicago Tribune, William F. Buckley, Jr., Happy Days Were Here Again: Reflections of a Libertarian Journalist