The decision to move the College of Visual and Performing Arts’ graduation ceremony from its designated lawn, the art quad, to the Convocation Center has prompted a disruption on campus. The change is part of a larger university decision to move all graduation ceremonies indoors by 2021.
A petition protesting the move has now collected over 2,200 signatures. But, according to Bill Wyatt, director of communications and university spokesperson, the administration’s decision is final.
“It felt like we didn’t have a voice in the decision at all, and we’re the ones who are most affected,” Joanna Pottle, a fifth year art major who’s been serving as a student liaison, said. “Administration even asked us, ‘What in the future can we do to make this better?’ And I said, ‘Just include us in the conversation.’”
According to Jeffrey Bush, the acting dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts, the news was shared with the unit heads in an email. Word spread to students, who then became suspect that the decision was due to weather.
Wyatt said the art quad was unfit for a ceremony due to its lack of accessibility, safety concerns due to its location and the potential for bad weather. By consolidating the ceremonies into fewer facilities, the university hopes to route car and pedestrian traffic accordingly.
“As we grow, we’ve had to make decisions based on numbers,” Wyatt said. “The Quad and other outside ceremonies have some real accessibility issues for people who are on immobility devices or have trouble getting around.”
The art quad, which has also been referred to as Duke Lawn, is located between Duke Hall and the Music Building, and adjacent to Forbes Performing Arts Center — the primary academic buildings of the college’s graduates.The CVPA first graduated in the outside space outside of Duke Hall in 2013, according to Wyatt.
There are currently six colleges that graduate outside at three different locations: the College of Arts and Letters on the Quad, Health and Behavioral Studies and Business in Bridgeforth Stadium and Integrated Science, Engineering, Science and Mathematics both in Alumni Centennial Park. CVPA was the first to be moved. Once the Union Bank & Trust Center and Wilson Hall are finished, there will be enough space for all ceremonies to be indoors.
“Middle school graduations are in the basketball court — as college students we should be able to graduate somewhere with grass and trees,” Catherine Pierce, a senior graphic design major, said. “Not only is it being moved, it’s being moved somewhere none of has connection to.”
Because of the nature of visual and performing arts, most students from the college spend a majority of their time in the building. Pierce said she’s never stepped foot in the Convocation Center, or at least not in years.
“Us art majors are fiercely proud of Duke Hall,” Pierce said. “A lot of us have spent the night there and cried there. We’re protective of it, too. It’s just a much bigger deal to us than JMU administration might realize.”
According to Pierce, many students are bothered about the new venus's appearance: not only is it less scenic than art quad, which is surrounded by the picturesque Bluestone buildings, but the Convocation Center doesn’t have natural sunlight, and will make graduation photos less pleasing. The petition argues that the indoor basketball arena isn’t an accurate representation of the actors, musicians, artists, designers, performers and creators who now will graduate there.
“There’s been a trend to discount the arts and theatre majors,” Pierce said. “A lot are jaded towards our universities, and it’s something we’re all a little prickly about.”
Given that either Union Bank & Trust Center and Wilson Hall will open by the current junior class’ graduation, another college’s graduation ceremony will be moved indoors, according to Wyatt. While Pottle is working to create a reception on the art quad following a formal ceremony, students continue to express their disappointment for the new graduation venue.
“Universities should and foremost be for students, and I feel like JMU generally does a good job of that, but we should not to be afraid to vocalize,” Pottle said. “We’re paying for our education here, I think we have the right to communicate when we feel like we’re not getting what we’ve been promised.”
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