This Spring, graduating seniors will no longer walk the stage of the Alumni Greek Theatre. Instead, they will receive their diplomas at the Ted Runner Stadium.
“In this new venue, our graduates, families, and guests will enjoy greater accessibility and safety, unlimited seating, convenient parking, improved access to restrooms, and a visitor-friendly experience,” the Commencement Committee wrote in a university-wide announcement email on Jan. 24.
Though the Committee gave no further clarification, the differences between the two venues are undoubtedly recognizable. The Ted Runner Stadium, mainly used for football matches and track and field competitions, has a seating capacity of 6,750. Meanwhile, the Greek Theatre currently seats up to 4,000. The former houses built-in restrooms underneath the bleachers, while the nearest restrooms to the latter are located a few minutes’ walk away in academic buildings.
This decision was met with mixed reactions.
Some students strongly objected to the shift to Ted Runner Stadium. After the announcement was released, an anonymous petition circulated online that called for the university to reverse its decision. At the time this article was written, the petition had garnered more than 400 signatures from both students and parents.
Apart from the unique look and feel of the Theatre, once promoted as a part of the complete Redlands experience, many petitioners also cite the long-standing tradition of the university holding commencement in the Greek Theatre as a reason for objecting to the change of venue.
Part of the Greek Theatre was first used for commencement purposes in 1921 for the Zanja Fiesta, a graduation event that bore its name from a narrow stream of water that used to run in front of the Theatre. Construction of the Theatre was completed in 1927, and many of the commencement ceremonies in recent years have been held there.
“Graduating on the football field is a horrible idea, truly disrespectful to our class who has been looking forward to walking the stage of the Greek theater for four years,” writes Kalea Trudeau ‘23 on the petition.
Nonetheless, other students embraced the change, and accessibility is the key reason for it.
“If you’re able-bodied, you don’t necessarily think about what it is like to be a non-able-bodied person. So of course you want to sign the petition because it doesn’t affect you but there are people who are affected by this,” said Jay Arroyo ‘23.
Arroyo is the President of DEFIANT, a campus organization dedicated to students with disabilities and differences. After witnessing the push-back from other students regarding the change in venue, Arroyo along with the club’s Vice President Elizabeth Beck ‘23 published an Instagram post explaining their point of view.
“Remember when changes like this happen, think about communities you aren’t a part of and remember, it doesn’t matter where we [are] celebrating this accomplishment in our lives, what matters is that we are celebrating this together,” wrote Arroyo and Beck.
The Greek Theater’s inaccessibility has long been a subject of grievance among students with disabilities. Steep hills, limited disability seating, and a distant and badly paved parking lot are all part of the problem, Arroyo explained.
“If you’re in a chair, you have to go all the way to the bottom. You have to enter in through this hidden entrance into the Greek Theater parking lot [which] only has about, I would say like, 20 parking spots available if you don’t want to go up another steep hill,” Beck added. “I don’t think anyone would be comfortable going down in a chair with or without assistance.”
Addressing the student body at large, Arroyo and Beck wanted to reassure students that it is understandable to be disheartened at the change at first, but that it is more important to realize the implications of the venue change.
“I think ignorance is a part of life. Everybody is ignorant about something. So it’s about choosing to learn and choosing to grow as a person, choosing to understand that we’re moving [venue] because of this reason, not just because of some random reason, and it’s more important that we are all graduating together,” Arroyo said.
Beck agreed and added, “Even if you’re not a part of these communities, we exist and we matter.”
Commencement Week this year is scheduled for April 21 to 23.
Photo by Photo Contributor Sophia Briggs.