Protests for dining workers continue during commencement

Abby Vervaeke, Managing Editor

On Friday, May 15, Simmons hosted a virtual commencement ceremony for the Class of 2020. During the ceremony, one student held up a sign regarding the University’s decision not to leverage their contract with Aramark to secure their furloughed dining hall workers benefits. 

The sign held up read, “Simmons dining hall workers have gone two rent cycles without pay,” according to a screen grab of the incident posted on Instagram.

A screenshot of Lyberger’s sign, courtesy of @paysimmonsworkers on Instagram.


The incident comes after several demonstrations by student organizers attempting to convince Simmons to pay dining workers’ wages.

Julia Lyberger, the student who held the sign, says that Simmons did not allow them to take part in the celebration after they held up the sign. 

“I asked them to turn my mic back on by taking myself off of mute during the celebration, and they repeatedly muted me each time I asked to have my camera turned back on until they eventually booted me from the zoom call all together,” wrote Lyberger in a Facebook message to the Voice. 

After RSVPing to the virtual ceremony, graduating seniors were sent an email that contained information about the ceremony, including instructions for participants. Students were instructed to remain muted for the entire ceremony and to only turn on their video when their group was called. 

“As communicated prior to the event, all students’ microphones were turned off throughout the commencement ceremonies to minimize background noise. If any student unmuted, they were muted again,” wrote Richard Voos, associate provost for planning, assessment and accreditation, in a statement to the Voice. “This student [Lyberger] was treated no differently. Simmons did not turn off student videos, and continues to support student free expression. We were excited to have the opportunity to celebrate this major milestone with the Class of 2020, and we’re grateful to all the students who collaborated with us to make commencement a meaningful and memorable event.”    

At the end of the document containing instructions, the University included a reminder that all students are required to follow the Student Code of Conduct during University events. 

“Simmons students may not engage in conduct that disrupts the educational process, the operations of the University or our Fenway neighbors,” the University wrote in the reminder. “Commencement attendees who violate community standards may be excluded from the Commencement exercises at any time.”

Although the Student Code of Conduct is available online, the protest and demonstration guidelines mentioned on page 16 of the code were not available for some time. 

When The Voice inquired about the missing guidelines, Assistant Dean of Community Standards Echelle Avelar said she is working to get the link fixed. The issue has since been resolved and the guidelines can be found here. It remains unclear whether the protest and demonstration guidelines were accessible to students prior to commencement. 

Avelar declined to comment on whether Lyberger violated the code of conduct during commencement, citing federal policy.

Aside from the controversy surrounding Lyberger, several students cited overall management shortfalls during commencement. 

“I have to give a little credit to Simmons, because coordinating a brand new graduation in a short time can be difficult,” wrote outgoing Editor-in-Chief of the Voice Mackenzie Farkus in an email. “However, management of graduation itself — particularly with the inconsistency of the livestream and how certain students’ cameras were blocked — was ridiculous. It almost felt like a joke.”

To read more of the Voice’s coverage of 2020 commencement, click here.