Sam Houston State University graduating seniors not allowed on stage, school claims safety issue
HUNTSVILLE, Texas - Graduating seniors at Sam Houston State University are upset after learning they will not be walking across the stage for their 2023 commencement ceremonies.
Walking across the stage, a common tradition for American colleges and universities, is something graduating senior Rayven Criswell was looking forward to doing.
"As a soon-to-be graduate myself this is very disheartening," wrote Criswell on her Change.org petition. "A lot of students at SHSU have put in the time, hard work, and a lot of money to be able to walk a STAGE at graduation." Her online petition has received over 11,000 signatures in less than 24 hours.
Several students told FOX 26 they believe it's the school's response to "dancing" or strolling that commonly happens with members of Greek-letter fraternities, sororities, and other social organizations as they receive their degrees on stage. An example of strolling can be viewed around the 1:03:30 mark of the 2022 Fall Commencement posted on the school's YouTube Channel.
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Sam Houston State told FOX 26 they're committed to hosting an event that is "accessible and as safe as possible for all guests and participants." A spokesperson for the school did not confirm whether strolling on stage prompted the need for safety.
A member of the SHSU's National Pan-Hallenic Council, who chose to remain anonymous, told FOX 26 the university met with the council in February to discuss alternatives to strolling during commencements. They stated that NPH mentioned a few alternatives to accommodate both students who wanted to celebrate and the President and staff on stage. They offered to create a list of people expected to stroll, elongating the stage, or increasing fines for organizations for "excessiveness."
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According to their website, NPHC is a collaborative umbrella council composed of historically African American fraternities and sororities also referred to as Black Greek Letter Organizations (BGLOs). It was created by students at Howard University in 1930. The organizations that make up the council are affectionately known as the 'Divine Nine.'
"This is not only punishing Divine Nine Members but all the class of 2023," stated the council member.
Several students we spoke with Wednesday said they are not bothered by students wanting to celebrate their graduation by strolling.
"They're excited about graduating," says 2023 graduate Owen Brock, who also works regularly on constructing the school's stage at Bernard G. Johnson Coliseum. "They say it's for safety issues. That's a lie. We're using the same stage we've used for every single event, and that's never been an issue."
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Caroline Carlton, who is getting her Bachelor's in Education next week, says her parents were upset after hearing the news. "People who graduated during the pandemic lost their graduation completely. They didn't get to walk across the stage. Some had to do it on Zoom. Walking is one of the biggest parts."
Here is the full statement on the issue from Sam Houston State:
"The university is committed to hosting an event that is accessible and as safe as possible for all guests and participants. Like other universities in the state, we are moving the stage to the floor as part of the ceremony. Graduates will be recognized by name and receive their diplomas from President White. This change will not limit the audience’s view of the graduates."