The UVic Senate voted on April 7 to approve a proposal allowing STEPS Forward students to participate in convocation following widespread media attention in the weeks prior.
The Senate motion reads as follows:
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.
STEPS Forward participants will participate in a ceremony that most closely matches their area of study, and will be issued a certificate of completion.
The issue of STEPS Forward student’s participation in graduation ceremonies drew media attention when a petition asking the university to allow Nathan Bodie, a UVic student with autism, to attend convocation was created by his friend Julia Templeman. The petition drew thousands of supporters in a matter of weeks. More on that here.
The proposal itself was already in the works “for several months” prior to the creation of the petition, according to the university.
“It’s been tremendous,” said Bodie of the news during an interview last week. “I just feel now that I get recognized for the five years of work that I have done, and it just feels like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders.”
Templeman was equally relieved. “I feel great,” she laughed. “I’m really happy for Nathan.”
In a news release published shortly after the meeting, UVic stated that, “This pathway to recognition not only honours the achievement of the students but also demonstrates the university’s strong commitment to being a welcoming, diverse and inclusive learning community.” [Full statement here.]
Though the outcome of the petition was ultimately positive, both Bodie and Templeman said the university could’ve done more to communicate with STEPS Forward on the status of their proposal earlier in the year.
“I started my petition and then all the media got involved and [UVic was] like ‘Oh, this is kind of too bad because we were working on it,’ but we had no idea,” Templeman said. “I feel like there was definitely a lack of communication.”
“I think there was a huge communication breakdown between the [Senate] convocation committee and STEPS Forward,” Bodie said, “because I would ask about once every two or three weeks ‘what’s going on?’ and the only thing I would hear was, ‘they’re working on it, they’re working on it.’
“So if there was one thing I would change, it would be more communication.”
Bruce Kilpatrick, UVic executive director of university communications and marketing, told the Martlet via email that UVic and STEPS Forward are already looking at ways to strengthen communications with their students. “I’d imagine that would include more direct contact between the university and STEPS students, where appropriate,” he wrote.
Many of Bodie’s supporters wondered why STEPS Forward students participating in convocation was ever an issue in the first place. Kilpatrick said STEPS Forward had submitted a proposal that was rejected in 2010, and they were encouraged to work with university representatives to “strengthen the proposal and resubmit it.”
Kilpatrick said the topic wasn’t raised again by STEPS Forward until October 2016, which led to STEPS Forward submitting a new proposal on Dec. 23.
“UVic never said no to Nathan,” he said. “The first time we had a direct conversation with him was on April 3 to ensure he was aware of the process, including the convocation committee recommendation and the April 7 Senate meeting.”
In any case, Bodie will cross the stage this June thanks to the support of STEPS Forward and the UVic community — a testament to the ability of students to bring about change.
But don’t start calling him a local celebrity just yet.
“I did not do it to become that,” he said. “I did it to change a policy that so badly needed to be changed.”
With files by Sarah Lazin
Update (April 19): Included additional comment from UVic communications, Nathan Bodie, and Julia Templeman. Also updated to include a photo of Bodie.