The Collegian
Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Student responds to criticism of Ring Dance changes

To begin I would like to thank The Collegian for the piece it published last week called, "Traditions exist for a reason" by Thomas Neale, because the public voicing of opinions of the many people who comprise the University of Richmond community can only serve to broaden and diversify discussions pertinent to the school.

But I must be honest with you, Mr. Neale. I find the arguments made in your piece to be the very essence of what is, in my opinion, most problematic at Richmond: the unwillingness to recognize class privilege and its consequences in terms of campus culture. I'd like to address several points that you've made in your article before finally discussing your overarching argument that "traditions exist for a reason." I write this response in all due respect, and hope that other students and members of the community who both concur and disagree will be encouraged to offer their opinions in the public forum.

"This tradition is based upon paternal love," your article states in one of the earlier portions. The purity and inherent goodness of "paternal love" seems to be one of the foundational elements of your objection to the changes being made to the event. In reading that one line, I had to ask myself: "Is this an argument whose basis is paternalism?"

Let me refrain from giving examples of the many historical moments when atrocities were committed in the name of "paternal love." That's an entirely different beast. Let's instead look more closely at the insular student body for an explanation for why an event built on such principles would be totally and completely unacceptable.

Allow me to pose a question, Mr. Neale. If the father-daughter relationship is the defining feature of Ring Dance, what then do you say to Westhampton College students without active "paternal" figures in their lives?

What do you say to students with two female parents? Parents who don't use a gender binary to define their relationships with their children? What do you say to students with no parental presence at all?

How do you propose that such students find meaning in a tradition based on "paternal love," when the very reason, according to you, that we celebrate Ring Dance is to recognize a relationship that many students simply do not have?

I regret to inform you that long gone are the days when relationships based on "paternal love" are privileged and lauded above others. If an event such as Ring Dance is to exist, if anything, it should celebrate the accomplishments of Westhampton College students.

And yes, there is a time to recognize those whose help has been important to the success of students. But in the year 2013, holding events that raise "paternal love" up on a silver platter (or in this case, a marble staircase) simply isn't going to fly. Now we come to the portion of your argument, Mr. Neale, that I find most egregious.

We are all aware of the debate concerning the economic aspect of Ring Dance. And perhaps to some "middle class parents" (as you have repeatedly identified yourself as being) the cost of a dress, whether it be a $150 bargain gown purchased in high school, or a $500 evening gown purchased the year of, is no great burden.

But how dare you assume that the financial anxiety of students that appears at such moments as these, is "specious." Did it ever occur to you, that for some students, spending even $150 for a formal dress is an impossibility? Did it ever occur to you that for some students, supporting their families financially is just as great a priority as getting a good grade on a paper? That for some students, their wallets don't open to receive from Mommy or Daddy, but open to give, to help pay the mortgage or the electric bill?

And you are willing to go so far as to assert that perhaps these students "should not be attending a college where total costs approximate $58,000 a year." Mr. Neale, you accuse those interested in changing the tradition of Ring Dance as perpetrators of an "academic politically correct elite," but perhaps you should consider the ways in which you have implicated yourself as a supporter of the socio-economic elite through ideas such as this, that would refuse educational opportunities to those that fall short of being "middle class."

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And might I also remind you, that in no place does the university mission statement does it state that we are a university for the middle and upper class alone, intent on specifically or exclusively addressing middle and upper class interests. Our school should recognize the diverse economic situations faced by all its students, and if we default to becoming a "middle class" school that assumes "middle class" income to be the norm, we have failed.

And so we come to the lynchpin. "Traditions exist for a reason," you say. I agree. And I believe traditions can be important and meaningful. But the moment that we, as community, stop questioning our traditions, and why we hold our traditions as important, the traditions themselves become void of meaning, and we willfully submit ourselves to ignorance. There should be no such thing as an easy tradition.

Never should we assign meaning to anything, without first asking ourselves why.

With students actively moving towards changing the so called "tradition" of Ring Dance, and Dean Landphair's timely call for new policy, debate concerning Ring Dance has exploded in the past few years. But the debate is so much more than the question of the event itself. Ring Dance is just the container.

We need to think deeper as to why we even hold Ring Dance: How do we act our values in these types of celebratory gatherings, and most importantly: We must not submit ourselves to the idea that tradition for tradition's sake is an adequate explanation.

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