As alumnae, we have both served on Westhampton College Government Association, and last year we were the WCGA president and chair of senate. We are disheartened and saddened by some of the responses to Ring Dance 2015.
There have been many conversations and letters explaining that these changes make Ring Dance more inclusive while preserving the tradition in its entirety. And while we both recognize that we were able to be a part of Ring Dance 2013 – one of us leading the planning of it and both truly enjoying having our fathers walk us down The Jefferson stairs in our white dresses – we want to stress that change is inevitable, and it is rarely welcomed immediately with open-arms. We understand that classes after us want to have the same Ring Dance we did, but there were also classes before us that had a very different Ring Dance than we did. The fact that the junior women are celebrating one another and themselves for their academic achievement and their proximity to their senior year does not change with the color of their dress or having a man (or woman) by their side as they walk down The Jefferson stairs.
In light of the recent discussions, posts and comments made by current WC students and Westhampton alumnae, we fear that we are turning our backs quickly on Westhampton College and its good-faith efforts to make Ring Dance more inclusive. So, we would like to focus our writing on how much Westhampton College, including each and every member of the Westhampton Deanery, WCGA and Westhampton community, meant and continues to mean to us.
Both of us joined WCGA early on in college; Sara as a class of 2014 senator during her freshman year and Mimi as the class of 2014 president during her sophomore year. We were both very shy and quiet in the beginning. At weekly senate meetings, surrounded by fellow senators, class presidents, a WC dean, the WCGA president and the WCGA chair of senate, we both felt intimidated to sit beside such intelligent, strong and accomplished women. However, these women made it their goal for each new member to feel welcome, and as days and weeks passed, they helped us realize we had a place to raise our voices; that we deserved our seats at the table. Eventually, because of the wonderful leadership and support given to us by those women around the table, our seats moved to the head of the table.
Raising our voices is something that University of Richmond, and specifically Westhampton College, encourages us to do. There are many universities in which student voices mean much less. We both learned how to speak our mind, be bold and draw outside the lines because of incredible female role models such as Dean Landphair and Dean Fankhauser. This is why Mimi runs her classroom in Latta, South Carolina, on three main principles: her Scientist Leaders will 1) Think Critically, 2) Raise Your Voice and 3) Do The Right Thing. This is why Sara advocates and educates her peers on the importance of female representation, mentorship and leadership, and will continue to persistently do so throughout her studies at William & Mary Law School and beyond.
Ring Dance is not an event to exploit and use in taking a stand against Westhampton College, the deans, WCGA or one another – that goes against the very spirit of the event. We are all here to do the same thing, to make University of Richmond and Westhampton College a better place, and to ensure that the women leaving this college leave with more confidence, strength, independence, love and memories than they could ever put into luggage or a car.
The Westhampton College deanery is a source of this confidence, strength, independence and love. This is evident as soon as you walk up the stairs, pass the Westhampton logo, open the door and see Betty Prince look up, smile at you and ask how you are doing and how she can help you. It is seen when the deans take time out of their schedules to sit and talk with you about how it feels to be so far from home, because they know how much you miss home and your family. It is clear when you go to Dean Fankhauser because you need to talk about an ended relationship, your first-year roommate, a friend you’re worried about, anxiety, an eating disorder or your own experience or a friend's experience with sexual assault and rape. It is seen when, during weekly meetings with the WCGA president and chair of senate, Dean Landphair references an article or topic affecting the student body and genuinely asks: “Now Mimi and Sara, what do the students truly and deeply think and feel about this, and how can I help?”
Westhampton College respects and supports our voices, even the voices that go against it. The Westhampton College deanery is not a place that steamrolls its students; rather, in our experience, the deanery supports us, encourages us and trusts us. Are they human? Yes. But so are we.
It’s time for us to change the trajectory of the conversation to the accomplishments of the Westhampton College community and how we can continue its evolution and adaptation as it enters its second century. We should not be spending our time focusing only on what has happened in the past, but rather on moving forward and coming back together as a university and as Westhampton College.
We encourage all University of Richmond and Westhampton College students and alumni to focus on the love, compassion and dedication that is fostered by and developed in Westhampton College. To focus on the empowering guidance, kindness, help and solace we have all received at some point from a Westhampton College dean, student or alumna.