UCR students hold protest over proposed commencement changes

On Monday Oct. 21, MeChA De UCR, a community organization at UCR, organized a protest to voice their opposition to the announcement by UCR administration that commencement would be relocated from UCR’s campus to the Toyota Center of Ontario and that names would not be called during the ceremonies in order to shorten their duration.

In an ASUCR meeting held on Oct. 16, Christine Mata, the dean of students and associate vice chancellor of student affairs and Jorge Ancona, assistant vice chancellor of alumni and constituent relations, stated that while commencement usually takes place on Pierce Lawn, uneven ground and obstructed sight lines makes crowd management difficult. He said that holding commencement ceremonies outdoors in the summer time presented issues, as it is often too hot for guests. Ancona added that with UCR’s growing number of students, the length of commencement ceremonies was also presenting issues.

In order to address these issues, Ancona and Mata announced that the ceremony would be moved from UCR’s campus to the Toyota Arena in Ontario. The names of graduating students would be flashed on a banner-like screen as they walk across the stage instead of being announced.

After ASUCR members and students expressed their opposition to this plan, ASUCR President Julian Gonzalez released an official statement opposing this plan while also creating a petition on change.org that, at the time of writing has approximately 31,000 signatures. On Oct. 18, MeChA De UCR posted a flier on Instagram organizing and promoting a UCR commencement protest. The flier asked students to join them in protesting the relocation of commencement to the Toyota Arena and to demand administration say student names during commencement.

Approximately 50 students gathered by the Bell Tower with most students wearing all black in solidarity. The protest officially began at approximately 9:30 a.m. Students then marched from the Bell Tower to Hinderaker Hall while chanting things such as “say our names.” After chanting outside of Hinderaker Hall, protestors then began to march into Hinderaker Hall and up the stairs to Chancellor Wilcox’s office. Thomas M. Smith, interim provost and executive vice chancellor, was there to greet students and address their concerns.

Students then began expressing their concerns to Smith. Samia Alkam, president of the Middle Eastern Student Assembly and third-year education and political science double major, expressed her concerns with the administration’s decision to not announce student names at commencement. Alkam stated, “I feel like it is tokenization … You guys say that you are diverse, you say that you support first-generation students and students of color. As someone who is on brochures for the university you cannot say that you want to use us in your publications and not support our demands.” Students then demanded to speak to Chancellor Wilcox but were informed that he was in a meeting off-campus at the time.

After more students expressed their concerns, Smith stated, “We hear you, particularly around the issue regarding names. We are going to be working over the next couple of weeks to try to make sure that it can happen.” When students also began to demand that commencement also be brought back to campus, Smith responded by stating, “Part of the issue is that we got lots of feedback from last years graduates and how graduation did not work for them or their families. We do need to balance the voices of all students who are graduating.”

After asking if any other students would like to voice their thoughts, Smith stated, “I can guarantee to all of you that we will announce names. We have lots of discussions that we need to continue having regarding the venue because we got a lot of feedback regarding the heat, the inability of families to see students walk across the stage, the unevenness of the field which causes challenges for those with mobility issues, particularly older people. We are trying to balance out all of those concerns. I am hearing your voice on this and we will be back with ASUCR and other groups for more discussions.”

Amy Ramirez, a fourth-year psychology major and a member of MeChA responded to Smith stating, “We counter your proposal with recommending floors to put on the grass … We can rent tents. There are other things we can do as a university where a lot of us pay upwards of $30,000 a year to be here only for you to not give us a graduation on campus.”

Toward the end of the protest, the Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Brian Haynes made an appearance and stated, “Moving forward we will make sure that student voices are heard on this issue. We are committed to moving forward … when we were trying to ensure that we have a venue that would meet the needs of students, families and others, we made a decision to look at Ontario.” Haynes went on to state, “I have said it before and I will say it again. We apologize for this but we are glad that you brought it to our attention.” The protest concluded at approximately 10:30 a.m.

After the protest, on Oct. 22, ASUCR posted a video on their Instagram page of ASUCR President Julian Gonzalez announcing, “After conversations with campus leadership they have made a commitment to say our names at commencement … but we still have a lot of work to do.”

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