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Sallyport to temporarily open for commencement, academic quad to fully open in the fall

Maria Morkas / Thresher

By Nayeli Shad     4/10/24 12:05am

The academic quad construction is on track to be completed in late April, according to Executive Vice President for Operations, Finance, & Support Kelly Fox. The Sallyport entrance will temporarily open for graduation, with the rest of the quad remaining closed until the fall semester.

“The Academic Quad redesign project is on schedule,” Fox wrote in an email to the Thresher April 2. “The Sallyport will be open temporarily for commencement for graduates to walk through. We look forward to a grand opening celebration for the campus early in the fall semester. Fencing will remain up in the quad until the fall semester celebration to protect new landscaping and to allow the roots of new plantings to become more established.”

The quad closed in November 2023 to begin construction of the redesign. The Board of Trustees announced in January 2022 the intention to reimagine the quad “to be more welcoming, to be an active heart of the university, and more completely represent our history, our achievements and our values,” including relocating the Founder’s Memorial.

Jerome Cerio, a Wiess College senior, said the redesign was a compromise to move Willy’s statue but feels the rest of the project was unnecessary and slights the class of 2024.

“They [started the redesign] without considering how it would affect the senior class, who has already experienced several years of grievances and obstruction in their typical college activities,” Cerio said. “Our first two years were practically [taken over by] COVID. Now, us just wanting a normal graduation is obstructed by this new construction.”

Will Rice College senior Gazi Fuad said he and other seniors have been worried about whether the quad would be completed in time for graduation. When he was Will Rice president, Fuad said he expressed to the Dean of Undergraduates Bridget Gorman the possibility of partially opening the quad if construction was incomplete so that seniors could walk through the Sallyport.

“That’s been the main thing that people are concerned about, because I think that is a very iconic part of graduation, being able to walk down with your college and your friends,” Fuad said.

Cerio also said his primary concern about the quad closure has been getting to walk through the Sallyport at graduation, and though he has criticisms of the design, he is open to seeing a new quad once it is finished.

“It is a little sad that we don’t get that full-circle experience of, you know, the quad we walked into is the one that we leave with,” Cerio said. “I’m willing to accept the change … if it’s actually done and we get the experience to walk through [the] Sallyport.”

The tradition of taking senior photos has also been impacted by the redesign, Fuad said. Fuad has been photographing graduates since his sophomore year and said the Sallyport and cloisters of the academic quad are popular photo spots. This year, Fuad said he has had to be more creative with angles to minimize the fencing of the academic quad visible in the background.

Cerio said the timing of the quad redesign demonstrates the university’s lack of consideration for graduates.

“Right now is prime time to take grad photos, and now students are [having] to find other places or, I heard some friends considered photoshopping old photos [into the background of graduation photos],” Cerio said. “[It’s] kind of sad that we have to deal with that, especially in our graduation time. It would be one thing if it was a necessary evil, but like I said, this quad design didn’t feel like it was immediately necessary.”

Though the academic quad is a staple image of Rice, photographer Zeisha Bennett said she prefers to use different locations on campus to have more diverse senior photos. She said taking photos hasn’t changed much for her this year, but she hopes the obstacle of the quad redesign will lead to more creative grad photos.

“I think [the quad] being closed … [will allow] for more creativity going about grad photos and a different array of what grad photos could look like or will look like,” Bennett, a Baker College junior, said. “It was a little challenge, but a fun, creative challenge.”

With a year to utilize it, Bennett said she is interested in seeing how the design and its intention translate to the future use of the academic quad.

“It’ll be nice to see how their vision of it plays out, like it being more interactive. I’ve definitely been a little confuzzled about how they want it to be interactive and how we should interact with the quad. It’s the main one, it’s just supposed to look pretty,” Bennett said. “But you know, they wanted other things for it. So I’m curious to see how it’ll play out and new traditions for it.”

Fuad said that he appreciates the redesign because he saw the space in the quad was not being fully used. Though he laments the timing of the redesign during his senior year, Fuad expressed that the closure had to happen at some point.

“I am happy that a redesign is happening,” Fuad said. “I understand that there needs to be at least a couple of months where they need to actually build everything out, but I am still somewhat frustrated. But it’s a necessary evil … We just kind of have to make do with the best we have.”

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