UVic responds to petition supporting student excluded from convocation

Campus News
Screenshot via change.org
When Julia Templeman learned her friend Nathan Bodie wouldn’t be allowed to participate in convocation because of his enrolment in STEPS Forward, she started a petition to change UVic’s mind. Screenshot via change.org

UVic students and community members are rallying behind Nathan Bodie, a student with autism who may not be allowed to participate in his graduation ceremony due to his enrollment in the STEPS Forward B.C. Initiative for Inclusive Post-Secondary Education (BC-IPSE).  

According to its website, BC-IPSE “provides the support for students with developmental disabilities to access the same academic courses, recreational, social and employment opportunities as any other student at their local college or university.”

A change.org petition was started by Julia Templeman, a close family friend of Bodie’s, who said she was outraged to learn that UVic is the only university in B.C, Alberta, or Saskatchewan that does not allow inclusive education program students to participate in graduation ceremonies.

“I want to watch Nathan proudly walk across that stage,” the petition reads. “He deserves it!”

Paper copies of the petition are also being distributed around campus. In the two weeks since Templeman started the petition, it’s gathered over 1 100 physical signatures, and over 3 000 online.

“It’s funny,” says Bodie. “My brother texted me the other day and he goes, ‘how does it feel to be a local celebrity?’ And I didn’t know to shoo him out or to thank him because, in a way, I am the face of the fight right now. But this is not my fight. This is the fight for every student that’s in there right now and every student that will come after me. That’s the way I see it. Although I am the face of the fight, this fight is for every student who comes after me and every student who is a student right now.”

In January, Templeman and some of Bodie’s professors wrote a letter and put together a proposition, sending it to the convocation committee to ask them “how can we change this.” They say they never got a response.

When the committee met earlier this year, Templeman says they were not able to present their proposition to the committee, instead having to correspond primarily through email.

“We [aren’t] really given a lot of information,” says Templeman, laughing. “They [the meetings] always seem to be closed-door — the one in January was too.”

However, UVic has since informed the Martlet that a letter of support written by Templeman, among others, was included in a proposal to the convocation committee from STEPS Forward on Dec. 23, 2016. The committee then worked with STEPS Forward to develop a recommendation for UVic Senate in time for the June 2017 convocation.

On March 30, UVic released a statement regarding the petition asking the university to allow Bodie to attend convocation:

UVic appreciates the interest of those who have, this week, expressed support for the inclusion of these students in UVic Convocation ceremonies. This is consistent with UVic’s goal to be a diverse and welcoming learning community.

UVic and STEPS Forward have been working together for several months on a proposal to create an appropriate pathway for recognition that would involve certificates of completion and participation in Convocation for STEPS Forward students who complete their studies at the university.

On March 20, the Convocation Committee forwarded a recommendation to Senate that this proposal be adopted. If approved by Senate on April 7, STEPS Forward students who complete their studies will be able to participate in Convocation ceremonies starting this June.

The Martlet has obtained the wording of a motion to allow STEPS Forward students to attend convocation. The motion in full reads:

Motion: That Senate approve that STEPS Forward participants who have completed at least 4 years of studies and 12 courses be invited to participate in Convocation.

AND that participation in the Convocation ceremony will be carried out as follows:

  • The University of Victoria will issue a certificate of completion to students who achieve the approved requirements. This certificate is not a university credential (degree, diploma or certificate) and will not be represented as such.
  • STEPS Forward participants will participate in the Convocation ceremony that most closely matches their area of study. They will wear undergraduate regalia with no hood, consistent with the regalia worn by certificate and diploma students.
  • STEPS Forward participants will be listed in the Convocation program with the following notations — ”Certificate of Completion” and “With the support of the STEPS Forward Inclusive Post-Secondary Education Society”.

AND that the University of Victoria’s Memorandum of Understanding with STEPS Forward be amended to include the requirements and criteria for participation in Convocation.

An expanded proposal attached to the motion will come to a vote in a closed session during next week’s UVic Senate meeting. The closed session is due to personal information included in the proposal, according to the Office of the University Secretary. 

When asked what he would like to say in addressing the senate and convocation committee prior to their deliberations, Bodie questioned:

“Why? Why me? I’ve done all of the schoolwork, all of the projects, I’ve volunteered on campus . . . If I do all of the work that every other students does, why should they focus on the two words ‘auditing student,’ if I am not, in a way, an auditing student? Why is STEPS forward excluded from this ceremony of recognition and celebration?”

More on this story as it develops.

Correction: We have clarified the label of the motion to specify its separation from a broader proposal that will be discussed in a closed senate session. We regret the error.

UPDATE March 30: Updated to include a statement from UVic communications.

March 31: Updated to include statements from Nathan Bodie and Julia Templeman, and the text of the UVic Senate motion. 

April 2: Updated to include clarification from UVic regarding the letter of support written by Templeman.

With files by Myles Sauer