VCU, U.Va. and state's community colleges cancel spring commencement ceremonies

George Copeland Jr. | 3/19/2020, 6 p.m.
Spring commencement ceremonies have been canceled at many schools and universities across the nation, including Virginia Commonwealth University, the University ...
Dr. DuBois

Spring commencement ceremonies have been canceled at many schools and universities across the nation, including Virginia Commonwealth University, the University of Richmond, the University of Virginia, all 23 community colleges in the state, at Morehouse College and Howard University, where a positive case of coronavirus was confirmed.

Dr. Glenn DuBois, chancellor of Virginia Community College System that serves more than 270,000 students annually at 23 institutions on 40 campuses statewide, lamented the decision in a statement released Wednesday, noting that it was driven by guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to avoid gatherings of 10 or more people during the next eight weeks.

“What’s difficult is that the very things that make these ceremonies meaningful also make them dangerous in this pandemic,” Dr. DuBois stated. “While it’s a celebration of individual achievements, it’s a community celebration. Many of the same family members who travel far and wide to attend are at particularly high risk with this virus. And the hugs and high-fives that come naturally to so many of us in that moment fly in the face of the social distancing practices we are asked to observe.”

He said the community colleges will honor the Class of 2020 graduates later “at a time and in a manner that is safer for all concerned.”

The cancellations speak to the scale of impact the coronavirus is having on Virginia’s colleges.

UR, VCU, Virginia Union University, Virginia State University and others have moved to shut down their classes, mov- ing college courses from the classroom to online. Operating hours and staff onsite are being reduced.

For students unable to participate from home, many schools like VCU and J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College have taken to altering computer stations in academic buildings and libraries to ensure “social distancing” between users.

“There are some classes like welding where you really can’t move it online. So we’re looking at some alternative ways to provide that education,” said Joe Schilling, director of communications for Reynolds.

In a similar vein, some colleges have shifted their dining facility operations from self-serve halls to take-out stations, in order to lower the possibility of viral transmission or infection.

Some schools, such as VSU, have closed or reduced their number of active residence halls, while others, such as VUU, are providing housing to students during this time, officials said.

VUU has a large number of homeless students learning at the institution, officials said, with the makeup of the student population still on campus split between those unable to return home and those with no home to return to.

“We’re trying to make smart decisions to ensure the safety and health of our students and our campus community,” said Pamela Cox, VUU assistant vice president for public relations and communication.

Officials at VSU currently are processing exemptions from students unable to find housing outside of the college.

“As everyone else around the country is doing, we are being mindful of the health and safety of all of our constituents, our faculty, our staff, our students and our local community,” said Gwen Williams Dandridge, director of marketing and communications for VSU. “In all of our decision-making, that is paramount.”