April 15 , 2022 | NEWS | By Mika Alexander | Photo by Rikki Held
This year, Colorado College has chosen to hold commencement in the new Ed Robson Arena instead of on Tava Quad, where the ceremony has been held in years past.
The decision is the result of about six weeks of collaborative efforts between numerous campus committees and the administration, in major part because of the complications the COVID-19 pandemic has presented for larger events.
Although holding commencement outside provides excellent ventilation and lowers the risk of contracting the virus, the outdoor venue that has been used does not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 guidelines.
“The accessibility of the walkways on Tava Quad are dirt or gravel, which are hard to navigate in a wheelchair or with a walker,” said Faculty Marshall and Associate Professor of Education Dr. Manya Whitaker.
Besides the inaccessible walkways, sign language interpreters during the ceremony stand by the stage on the ground, which makes it hard for people to see.
Also, according to Whitaker, commencement is usually attended by anywhere from 2,000 to 2,500 people. Standing in a large group during the ceremony, “emergency responders don’t have easy ingress or egress,” said Whitaker.
Acknowledging the faults in past ceremonies, the college decided to search for other venues that would provide more accessibility for all guests who attend commencement.
Shove Chapel, while briefly considered, was quickly ruled out due to ventilation issues. Because other spaces on campus are not equipped for such a large crowd, the school began examining the newly constructed Ed Robson Arena as a possible ceremony space.
“Robson seats 3,032. So everyone can have a seat. There’s dedicated ADA-compliant spaces for people who have accessibility struggles. And people don’t have to stand up for an hour-and-a-half,” said Whitaker.
Additionally, the arena touts a jumbotron screen which should eradicate major visual issues for guests that have trouble seeing.
The arena also provides a remedy to the college’s current staff shortage. Because school events require staffing, “(our) student life employees have been working overtime staying late to staff these events and, of course, we don’t want to ask that of them further,” said Whitaker.
Since the Robson Arena provides its own internal events staff, the college will not have to exhaust its employees during a ceremony on Tava Quad.
After the college announced its plans for the commencement venue, the student body reacted in various ways.
While the size of the arena will allow for more guests, some students are concerned about their connection to the space in which they will receive their diplomas.
“The upside is I have seven tickets, so a lot of people can come. But it’s weird I have no attachment to the arena,” said Nicole Berlanga ’22.
Moreover, because the ceremony will be held indoors, some concerns over COVID-19 safety have arisen.
“The lifted mask mandate [that the college announced during Block 6] limits my family members that can attend; they don’t feel comfortable coming for health reasons,” said Berlanga.
For others, the continuing pandemic is not a problem. “I feel like the cases are dropping on campus. So, I’m not too concerned about that,” said Angela Wei ’22.
While the pandemic is of primary concern to the administration, the college follows the Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and will adjust any campus regulations according to what the CDC deems appropriate.
According to the college, managing various COVID-19 concerns will be easier in the arena, where there is more space to comfortably and safely watch the ceremony.
“People always have the option to wear masks. People have the option to sit further away from each other and still be able to see what happens because of the jumbotron,” said Whitaker.
In an effort to compromise, some students have suggested holding commencement on the quad while saving the arena as a contingency plan in the case of unfavorable weather.
However, covering the ice on the arena takes about a day. So, having the arena as a backup is not realistic in the school’s eyes.
“We have to have already paid to have everything prepped and ready to go days before commencement, and then we may not even use it. So, that’s not really a good use of the college’s resources,” said Whitaker.
Despite several negative reactions from the student body, some seniors are content with CC’s decision.
“I would much prefer my family members with disabilities to be able to attend, be able to have a bathroom nearby, be able to get food whenever they need it, be able to see and hear things on the jumbotron better,” said Arity Sherwood ’22.
While some students lament the lack of a mountain view at the ceremony, Sherwood remains confident that having an accessible ceremony will be more meaningful than pleasant scenery.
“I would rather have my family be able to come than have a pretty graduation. And we have this big arena. We wasted so much money on it, so we might as well use it,” said Sherwood.
Commencement 2022 will be held in the Ed Robson Arena on May 22, 2022, from 8:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. MST.