By Maddie Johnson, Senior Writer
Provost Steven Schreiner and other administration members held a meeting with the student government in light of the administration’s decision to hold the Manhattan College 2022 commencement ceremony in New Jersey in order to address student concerns.
In the second week of the semester, Schreiner sent an email to seniors and their families addressing that graduation will officially be held on Wednesday, May 18 at the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus, New Jersey.
In his email, Schreiner explained why the commencement cannot take place in Manhattan College’s home state, New York.
“New York City continues to have some of the most restrictive event guidelines in the region and has released new requirements too late for advanced planning. Commencement takes significant advanced planning, so this decision needed to be made now,” he wrote.
In response to the questions many students had from the email, the student government decided to invite Schreiner to speak in-person about the matter. He was joined by Tamara Britt, vice president for external and legal Affairs and chief of staff, and Esmilda Abreu-Hornbostel, interim vice president of student life.
To kick off the meeting, Liola Moody, student body vice president, asked Schreiner why administration chose a venue in New Jersey as opposed to other New York based venues, including Yankee Stadium. The provost was quick to address that Manhattan College had looked at other venues like Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall, but found COVID protocols in New York City to still be problematic.
Schreiner also mentioned that the school looked into a venue in Westchester County, although the space wasn’t available due to it being used for COVID-19 testing. Regarding Yankee Stadium, the provost summed up his answer by explaining that the venue was too big and cost was prohibitive.
To follow up Moody’s question, student body president, Kevin Rojas, asked if the school ever had sent out an official proposal for commencement to Yankee Stadium. Schreiner responded saying, “I don’t think there was a whole proposal, I think it was a discussion.”
Another student government member, Zachary Olivan, vice president of residential affairs, brought up a question many students and families have stressed is a priority, which is if the New Jersey location protocols provide the proper protection for commencement attendees.
Schreiner answered Olivian by explaining that the beauty of having commencement in New Jersey is that the venue will accommodate Manhattan College regardless of whether masks or testing is required, giving administration more freedom when setting up a health plan.
Schreiner then answered Olivan’s second question, which was what One Manhattan’s plan is to ensure students and other attendees safety. Schreiner responded by saying the school cannot announce an exact plan now since the event is too far away. Following that, Britt expanded on how the school has to work with the timing of CDC guidelines to send out an official plan.
“We have the One Manhattan team to implement protocols similarly to what we have done on campus. Those protocols may or may not be adjusted given where we are with the pandemic, so it may be masks, it may be PCR tests requested in advance, the vaccination protocols, etc. But that is all going to depend on where we are with respect to science,” Schreiner said.
After the student government panel asked their questions, Rojas opened the floor to students that had a variety of concerns and questions, ranging from how the school will provide travel to why certain outside venues were not considered.
One student voiced her concern about seniors not having enough say about graduation before the school decided on Meadowlands, which she expressed made the process lack transparency.
Schreiner responded by mentioning that while the school was looking at venues throughout October, it was brought to seniors’ attention that graduating in New Jersey was a possibility and that a survey was put out. He also mentioned how the survey, created by the student government, was made to see how students felt about the location change.
Following her question, the student asked how students were involved besides the poll sent out by the student government, to which the provost said he talked to students on the academic affairs committee.
Travel was another issue many students pointed out to administrators was a concern of theirs. At the meeting, Schreiner did confirm transportation, specifically buses, will be provided and that he and the administration are currently working on arranging busing for graduation day.
Questions regarding how attendees will get to graduation raised concern about another topic, how the school will ensure safety with unvaccinated and vaccinated people next to each other in a crowded space.
Senior Sydney Waitt explained at the meeting why she feels unsettled about the school’s travel plans.
“My grandmother will be coming from seven hours away to see her first grandchild graduate, and she won’t have the means to drive a car,” Waitt said.
“She’s elderly and she’s also extremely immunocompromised. So, will she be on a bus with other people in a confined space?”
Britt addressed this question by admitting that vaccinated passengers will have to sit next to unvaccinated passengers, but that the school plans to administer COVID tests to attendees the day of the ceremony.
“The short answer is yes,” Britt said. “The long answer is we’re going to have testing in place the day of. So, the best predictor of whether or not somebody is indeed positive and is going to transmit the virus is to have testing.”
Following those questions, students asked Britt to confirm that testing will be in place the day of graduation, in which Britt responded, “I will tell you as of right now, yes, we are going to have testing.”
One of the most frequently asked questions discussed at the student government meeting was why outside venues will not be an option. On the Q&A webpage for commencement, it’s explained that Gaelic and Van Cortlandt Park cannot work as venues for the graduating class because they don’t accommodate people with disabilities and carry other challenges regarding access and exiting.
But seniors like Siobhan Hynes explained other ideas for outside venues, besides the two main parks close to campus. Hynes asked the provost if there was absolutely no way an outside venue could be considered.
“Is there absolutely no way that we could not have an outdoor ceremony? Because I feel like that would probably be the most ideal where one one’s in a confined space,” Hynes said.
She offered other ideas which seem closer and accessible.
“There’s a place 10 minutes away. St. Joseph’s Cemetery has huge fields and they don’t have any events,” Hynes said.
Schreiner answered by bringing up that planning an outdoor ceremony for the school would be difficult, considering extra planning would be involved and backup plans would have to be organized for commencement.
“A closed stadium, a closed roofed building no matter what, is the best in that sense, and that’s my view of it,” Schreiner said.
In an email statement, Rojas elaborated how he felt about the provost coming to the student government meeting to speak to students regarding their concerns.
“I am proud of the Jaspers who came out to speak their minds at our meeting,” Rojas said.
Rojas emphasized how he appreciates the administration speaking with students and listening to their issues and ideas.
“Also, I appreciate that the administration took the time to speak to students and hear all of their concerns,” Rojas said.
“Full transparency is the most important part of this whole process, and I expect that after this meeting there will be a continued open dialogue between the student body and administration moving forward.”
Senior Ashley Hickey mentioned that after the meeting, she still felt disappointed about the outcome of where commencement will be, as well as not heard.
“I think that he wasn’t really listening to our conversation and it wasn’t until the end of the meeting that he actually said that none of this could be changed, which was a little disheartening. I personally feel as though he doesn’t really have any interest in having students involved in this,” Hickey said.
In light of the controversy and backlash from some students about commencement being in New Jersey, Schereiner told The Quadrangle that ultimately he wants to plan the best and safest ceremony for everyone on campus.
“It’s gonna be the same mission every year, to give the best possible event for the students. I want people to really focus on the fact that we’re actually planning in February an all inclusive, everyone’s invited to one location, to do this,” Schreiner said.
Schreiner continued to say that planning specifically this year was a challenge and with that, he has been impressed to see how much the Manhattan College community cares about having a well organized commencement ceremony for the seniors.
“All my interactions with the meetings, through my interview just a couple of years ago, it was just wonderful to see the students engaged. I actually know some students who graduated and they’re still engaged in the beautiful community of Manhattan College. I know that no matter what we’re facing in the future, we can work together on it,” Schreiner said.