An ostensibly minor change to how students line up and receive their degree at graduation has led to a much larger discussion between students and administration regarding how students affiliate themselves in relation to their academics.
The proposed policy, which calls for students to process in alphabetical order, was brought forth by President Joseph Urgo upon reviewing the graduation policy earlier this year. Urgo said, “I want to present St. Mary’s College as one student body … not divided into smaller segments.” He added, “I’ve never seen a small college line up by major.”
Urgo also said that the system could help double majors, which he said was an increasing segment of the student population, who were torn between their majors. Shortly after knowledge of the change got to students, however, Urgo said that he received a significant number of emails from students, especially Biology majors, expressing their wish to maintain the original policy, which was to process alphabetically by major, with majors ordered alphabetically. At the April 12 Student Government Association (SGA) meeting, the SGA also passed a resolution in support of processing by majors.
At a meeting held April 14 to discuss the issue, students from the senior class expressed their concerns in person to Urgo. Many students said that, though they identified themselves as St. Mary’s students, they felt a special bond with the people they worked with in their departments.
One biology major said, “We’re a pretty tight-knit group of nerds. We’ve kind of struggled together the past four years.” Other students noted that they not only had a strong academic connection, but personal connection to the people in their majors. One student said, “I’m a math major, and about 95 percent of my friends, my close friends … are from [the math department].”
Students from humanities majors also came out in support of walking by major. One english major said, “I’d rather sit with people who have been in the same types of classes … I’m proud of my major, and I want to sit with people who are proud of our major too.”
Even double majors, a group Urgo thought might welcome the change, had similar sentiments. One art/art history double-major said, “doing [the processional] alphabetically, I would feel a lot more alienated.” Another double major said that, despite her status, “I’m definitely sure which major I would walk with.”
Student Trustee Danny Ruthenberg-Marshall, as a student-designed major who said he may not have ties to people in his major in the way that others do, was the sole dissenting voice.
Although he understood the reasoning behind Urgo’s proposed change and personally agreed with it, he added, “I’ve never heard anyone vehemently for walking alphabetically, and there’s a whole group here vehemently [for walking by major].”
After hearing student opinion contrary to his proposal, Urgo noted that he was not particularly attached to either plan and suggested that he would change the policy back to processing by major as students wished. He said, “I really need to know what the class wants to do…this is not a ditch I’m going to die in.”