The Ring Dance 2015 discussion will have no impact on the changes to Ring Dance, moderator Eric Yellin, a Richmond American studies professor, said as he read the rules for Wednesday night's discussion.
Yellin started the discussion by asking the audience about the importance of traditions and whether changing them adds or detracts from the tradition.
"Traditions are not static," senior Allie Gutshall said. "They are always developing."
Traditions are one of the most special aspects of Westhampton College, junior Meredith Combs said. Her family's involvement in the tradition is what is most important to her, and she hopes that families will still feel as though they are an important part of Ring Dance, she said.
Many participants commented that the academic portion was not emphasized as it should have been and hoped the changes would restore that aspect of the tradition. It is going to take time for people to accept that this is an academic event, Gutshall said.
At first she had been excited to participate in a debutante-type dance, but she saw that was not what Ring Dance was meant to be about, Gutshall said..
Aspects of the ceremony were almost identical to her debutante ball at home, senior Ellen Tagtmeier said.
The removal of the escort was meant to make Ring Dance more inclusive, Juliette Landphair, dean of Westhampton College, said in a letter to the class of 2016 read at the start of the discussion.
Most people do bring their father, and if she were going, she would feel strange bringing anyone other than her father, said sophomore Rebecca Gluck. Currently, people feel left out no matter what, if they cannot have their father as an escort, Gluck said.
The change in color also was brought up in the discussion. Because it is common for guests to wear black, the junior women may have more trouble standing out, said Katerina Peifer, a Westhampton alumna who graduated in May 2012. She said that she was never fully against the changes and was open to the explanation provided during the discussion.
Tradition is a thread that unites all Westhampton College students, and she is also not against the changes, said another Westhampton alumna, class of 1984. She was not sure, however, if she saw how these changes fully mitigated what they were supposed to, she said.
How does the change of dress color make the event more inclusive, alumna Elizabeth Hailand asked.
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Wearing a black suit is more feasible than wearing a white suit, senior Christine Parker said. These changes help make students who choose to wear attire other than a dress feel more included because they do not stick out as much in a sea of white, she said.
It is upsetting that there will be a disconnect between the class of 2016's Ring Dance and everyone else who has participated in Ring Dance in the past, freshman Olivia Van Antwerp said.
Landphair and Kerry Fankhauser, associate dean of Westhampton College, attended the first hour of the discussion to hear the reactions and feedback to the changes announced at the start of the school year.
The major changes included: black attire instead of white dresses, no escorts, potentially no longer using the stairs in the ceremony and an effort to focus the night more heavily on the academic achievements of the junior women.
The discussion took place at 6 p.m. in the Keller Hall Reception Room. An audience of about 35 people, largely made up of WCGA members, students and a few alumnae, shared their thoughts on the changes to Ring Dance.
After the first hour, Yellin, Landphair, Fankhauser and many audience members had to leave the discussion, and moderator Nicole Maurantonio, a rhetoric and communications studies professor, took over with a group of about five people remaining.
After the changes were made more public, they received mixed reactions from students, parents faculty and alumni. The Collegian article on the changes received over 150 online comments, and many wrote letters into The Collegian and to the Westhampton College deans staff voicing their opinions.
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