MILWAUKEE — Marquette University postponed its 2022 Convocation ceremony on Thursday after members of multiple student organizations held an on-stage protest.
Watch video of the protest:
Marquette University cancels 2022 Convocation
The Black Student Council (BSC) said in an announcement that the protest was held in response to the elimination of the school’s Office of Engagement and Inclusion. It said shutting it down “without stating why is unacceptable.”
The BSC also said “it’s absurd” that the university’s Urban Scholars program has over 100 students — mostly students of color — but just one full-time staff member and no plans to hire another until 2023.
“We implore you all to take a stand and not attend today’s Convocation,” said the announcement.
The Students of Color for Change was the umbrella organization leading the protest.
Convocation is for incoming freshmen.
Marquette University said in a statement that the event has been rescheduled.
School officials write that they remain committed to their diversity/equity/inclusion goals, and the Office of Engagement and Inclusion has not been closed. They said they’re looking to fill vacant positions following resignations.
Read Marquette University’s statement below:
“Marquette values our students’ voices and respects their freedom of expression in alignment with our values. Unfortunately, due to the disruptive nature of today’s demonstration at the New Student Convocation, the university rescheduled the event.
We are deeply committed to advancing diversity, equity and inclusion on campus. As a result of our ongoing efforts, 30% of our incoming first-year class identifies as students of color, which is an all-time high in student diversity. We are proud of this progress and remain committed to initiatives that will continue to further DEI goals shared by the university and MUSG. Marquette has grown its Urban Scholars program for first-generation and financially disadvantaged students from the Milwaukee area, and has already committed to hiring another full-time staff person for the program in 2023. Marquette has not closed the Office of Engagement and Inclusion. Supporting the Office of Engagement and Inclusion and the Division of Student Affairs remains a priority as the university actively recruits to refill positions left open due to resignations. Many of these positions are posted online with interviews underway. These roles are expected to be filled this semester.
Marquette leadership has been actively working with Marquette University Student Government on these initiatives; in fact, the MUSG leadership meets regularly with the vice president of student affairs and the provost to discuss priorities and progress.
Like his predecessors, the MUSG president was invited to speak at today’s New Student Convocation because of his role as leader of the undergraduate student government. His claim that he was the only person of color slated to speak at today’s New Student Convocation is not correct. Both Provost Ah Yun and Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Xavier Cole, who both identify as people of color, had speaking roles at today’s Convocation.”
TMJ4 News crews recorded the ceremony around 4 p.m. on Thursday. Video shows parents and students sitting in chairs while student demonstrators stood on stage with posters.
About ten minutes after the event was supposed to begin, Provo and Vice President of Academic Affairs Kimo Ah Yun announced to incoming freshman and their families that the event would be postponed.
“I hope you’ll take the time to be able to have conversations with us. And I look forward to being with you when we reschedule,” said Provost Ah Yun.
After brief applause for the Provost, the incoming class of 2026 began to file out.
“I’m quite surprised,” said Katie Woolley, a Marquette freshman. “I read the signs. I understand they want their voices to be heard. I knew nothing of this [beforehand].”
“I appreciate that Marquette acknowledges the First Amendment rights of free speech. I don’t enjoy how in the end the event was still canceled, and I don’t get to experience this,” said incoming freshman Brennan Wills.
The protesters remained on stage until most of the Central Mall had cleared, leaving just empty chairs.
“We shut this down to represent how they’re trying to shut us down,” said senior and McNair Scholar Lionel Clay. “Trying to silence our voices. How they’re trying to mute us. How they don’t want us to be there.”
Clay said that just one advisor for the university’s Urban Scholar’s program speaks to a lack of support for diversity.
Provost Ah Yun said they’ll be hiring a second advisor next year, and the program is currently supported by a dozen other people, from faculty members to associate deans.
“It’s in our mission to reach out to diverse populations. Thirty percent of our incoming class is diverse. Marquette is at an all-time high for student and faculty diversity, and we’re proud of that,” said Ah Yun.
The Black Student Council said two advisors is still far too few to work with the more than 100 scholars now in the program.
The program, Clay said, should have at least four or five full-time advisers.