Students, alumni raise questions about virtual commencement

 Marshall announced Monday via email that the university’s winter commencement, scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 12, will be held virtually because of coronavirus-related concerns. That evening, some students and alumni took to social media to express frustrations about the university’s seeming inconsistency in taking such precautions.

“I realize that these are challenging times in which we must practice good social distancing, however, I am dismayed by the double standard that is being presented,” Marshall alumnus Austin Sanders stated in a Facebook post.

Sanders, who graduated in May but plans to participate in winter commencement, said it seems illogical to allow sporting events with large crowds, such as football games, while simultaneously refusing to hold a graduation ceremony for students who have spent tens of thousands of dollars obtaining a degree.

At each of Marshall’s past two home football games, one Sept. 5 and one Sept. 19, more than 1,500 students were allowed to attend in-person.

“While I recognize that Marshall University Athletics has developed a comprehensive plan to address the issue of COVID-19 in its athletic events, I think that the university’s decision to host the commencement ceremony online sheds light on concerns that should be applied to athletic events,” Sanders said. “Since we are unable to hold a traditional ceremony for myself and my classmates who have worked incredibly hard over the past four-plus years, then perhaps we should consider canceling athletic events or conducting them without fans present.”

Sociology student Matt Adkins said he is immunocompromised, so he has been doing all he can to prevent contracting the coronavirus, but he feels the university is not doing the same.

“I limit my time in the public because I know my limits, and that has kept me healthy thus far,” Adkins said. “However, I see my fellow colleagues, students and even professors not following guidelines, and neither is the university, especially when it comes to the football games.”

Adkins said the university’s guidelines for football games seem to contradict public health and safety guidelines and are not properly enforced, creating an unsafe environment for students and community members.

“They set in place a set of rules to not sit close, have empty rows and other things, but (they) do nothing to enforce it,” he said. “You can see on people’s social media that they do not wear masks or social distance.”

Adkins said despite restrictions, some students and community members still tailgate on game days, and alcohol consumption makes it less likely for individuals to follow health and safety guidelines.

“Tail-gating still happens, and people are still getting sick,” Adkins said. “They allow these events where alcohol is sold, so then people are even less likely to listen (to safety guidelines).”

Adkins said allowing sporting events also endangers student athletes, who already are overworked and undercompensated for their labor.

“They’re putting all of these students through all this, not accounting for their mental health, and now they say they can’t hold a ceremony for graduation? Why?” Adkins said. “Every single member of the football team and the staff are part of a game with skin-on-skin contact. The closest thing to that at graduation is the paper.”

Adkins said there is a clear double standard in how health and safety guidelines are being enforced, and both football games and commencement should have limited or no attendance policies to ensure students and community members are not being endangered.

“It is ridiculous to cut graduation and still allow functions for the games,” Adkins said.

Douglas Harding can be contacted at [email protected].