Students raise concerns about changes to seating arrangement for NU-Q graduation


Photo from NU-Q. Class of 2017’s graduation ceremony at the Events Hall in the NU-Q building.

Many members of the 2018 graduating class at Northwestern University in Qatar say they are upset with the administration’s recent decision to no longer seat students on stage for the graduation ceremony.

“My parents aren’t flying thousands of miles to come see the back of my head at graduation and then see me on stage for five seconds,” said Ayeda Iftikhar, a communications senior at NU-Q.


Reasons behind the decision

The stage can only fit 50 people but the number of graduates will be more than 60, according to Pim Thukral, chief operations officer of the university.

Student Affairs staff sent an email on Feb. 28 rejecting the senior committee’s proposal to reconsider the seating decision, which was sent on Feb. 27.

“There is no solution that can accommodate your request. Logistically, we are not able to accommodate the senior class on stage. Even without faculty on stage, there is not enough room to accommodate the graduating class,” wrote Keelie Sorel, interim director of student affairs at NU-Q.

The lack of space and potential safety hazards are the main reasons that students cannot sit on the stage, according to Bradley Bower, manager of community relations at NU-Q.

“The new stage is too small to fit both the senior class and the faculty. Faculty will be on the stage — this is proper university protocol,” he said, adding that this seating arrangement is consistent with the Evanston campus graduation ceremonies.

Another factor that went into consideration is the number of tickets available for the ceremony. “In order to accommodate an allocation of six tickets to family and friends of graduates, we need to limit the size of the stage,” Thukral said.

The total capacity of NU-Q’s Events Hall, where the ceremony will be held, seats just over 500 people. It was designed to comply with the standards of the National Fire Protection Association, according to Michael McDonough, director of health, safety, security and environment, who added that it is crucial to take into consideration the safety and security of an event.


Student reactions

After the decision was announced, some students voiced their frustration on social media.

“We don’t want excuses, we want action. For the many things about the logistics of this graduation that are not fair, this is by far the worst,” wrote Samaya Issa, a communications senior, on her Facebook account.

Though university staff involved in planning the graduation ceremony said student preferences were taken seriously, many students said they feel otherwise.

“It may sound petty, but the key part is what it means to people. Logistic wise, it makes sense, but it’s more than just logistics. We don’t have any sort of say in graduation,” said Zaki Hussain, co-head of the senior committee and a communications senior.

Journalism senior Habibah Abass said, “This is a symptom of a larger issue that we have here at NU-Q, where the administration really makes their own decisions without asking what the students want.”

Some students are opposed to having faculty seated on stage instead of students, even though, according to Student Affairs, the stage still could not accommodate the entire graduating class.

Fouad Hassan, a communications senior, shared a similar sentiment: “What is causing the confusion within the class is that faculty are on stage and students aren’t. It’s not that no one can be on stage, it is that the faculty are.”

On the other hand, some students said they are satisfied with the seating arrangement.

“What is the difference between sitting on stage and with everyone else? If anything, the speaker would be able to talk to us easily and our families will still see us when we walk and the picture will be on stage,” said Bushra Al-Hashmi, a communications senior.

Communications senior Maram Al-Qershi added, “I will still get to have my degree and I’m still graduating regardless. It’s not like families are there to stare at our faces.”

Some say the problem is the lack of effective communication.

“It would have been appreciated if they [the administration] showed us how and why it’s a hazard. It’s a matter of healthy communication between the administration and the graduating students,” said Noor Odeh, a journalism senior.


Concerns over future ceremonies

Besides this upcoming graduation, some students are concerned about future ceremonies. With the potential increase in size of future graduating classes, there may be a need to either decrease the number of tickets offered for the ceremony or move to a bigger facility, according to McDonough.

Although it is too early to predict future logistics, changing the venue to outside the university building may not be easy.

“Ultimately, we have to consider the costs of these venues. If we go to an outside venue, that is an increased cost to the organization, so we have to be prudent as well with our finances,” McDonough said.

Some students expressed concern about the future allocation of tickets. Ghadeer Abdulrahman, a journalism sophomore, said, “It will really disappoint me if the tickets decrease for the next few years. I obviously want my whole family to be there.”



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