Last edits made at 7:44 p.m. by Collegian reporter Jesse Siebentritt.
“Let them walk.”
The chant referred to the escorts at Ring Dance last Saturday night at The Jefferson Hotel who sidestepped a rule preventing Westhampton College juniors from having any escort during the ceremonial procession. The chanting began after Kerry Fankhauser, WC associate dean, announced the procession would be cut short because men had escorted their daughters despite the police and security guards who had been stationed at the top of the stairs.
The disruption came as a surprise to the WC administrators who planned the event.
“We didn’t hear from parents about this, really,” WC Dean Juliette Landphair said. “When we first made the announcement certainly, and a lot of the same kind of critiques leveled at us now were being leveled back then as well. … This disruption was in no way a reflection of the organization and the work and the time and the effort and the planning that went into this.”
Junior Hannah Butman’s father, Bob Butman, was the first person to break the rule and escort his daughter down the stairs.
“My dad and I had talked about it earlier, and he really wanted to be able to walk me down,” Hannah said.
“It was something that meant a lot to him, so I told him, ‘Just walk down with me. I’m sure a there are a bunch of people who would do the same,’” Hannah said. “He ended up being able to walk me down, and I think a lot of other people were happy about that.”
While many women did end up proceeding with their fathers, some students and parents said the commotion detracted from the ceremony.
“I don’t particularly care if girls want to walk with their fathers or not – you have a right to that opinion,” junior Kerry McGowen said. “But I felt like when the WCGA and Dean Landphair are spending so much money and time and effort planning such a nice event for us, we should respect their decisions, because people were acting like it was their right to walk down the stairs with their father or their escort or whomever. But Ring Dance isn’t a right.”
Albert Mitrotz attended Ring Dance to celebrate with his daughter, junior Amelia Mitrotz, and was upset when he realized that parents were flouting the rules to walk down the stairs with their daughters.
“To me, this was supposed to be about the girls – they were being honored,” Albert said. “And it was all being snatched away, and it wasn’t fair to any of the girls whose fathers weren’t doing this because now the crowd was getting rambunctious, and you couldn’t hear a thing.”
Albert observed fathers encouraging each other to walk down with their daughters after Butman walked.
“It reminded me of a locker room almost,” Albert said. “It was, ‘Are you man enough to do it?’ and one [parent] said, ‘Well, I’m not going to do that,’ but sure enough, he got egged on enough so that he went up and he walked down with his daughter when he shouldn’t have.”
Shortly after Michael Fradkin joined his daughter, junior Rebecca Fradkin, for her procession, it was announced that Ring Dance was over.
“It was a wildly unpopular policy decision, and the response from the deans made the situation even worse,” Michael said. “I can’t fathom what possessed them to do away with such a beautiful tradition.”
The procession resumed approximately 10 minutes after it was initially suspended, and junior women were given freedom to choose who, if anyone, would accompany them down the stairs.
“There were some student ushers caught in the middle of this,” Landphair said. “And we realized that in order to restore some calm, that the best thing to do would be to allow students if they wanted to have somebody accompany them down the stairs to do so.”
When Michael Fradkin walked past security to process with Rebecca, he said someone grabbed his arm.
“I looked at the police officer, and he didn’t flinch,” Michael said. “As I walked past, I felt someone grab me. … I don’t know Dean Landphair – that’s who I’m told it was – and I said, ‘That’s my daughter, let me go.’”
Dean Landphair did not comment on any verbal or physical interactions between WC administrators and parents.
Albert was not enthusiastic about the decision to let the procession continue.
“By not [stopping the event] at that point, the lesson learned for everybody was that you don’t have to follow the rules,” Albert said. “And to think that you’re entitled to get what you want just by ignoring the rules, and that’s really not how life is. You’re doing dishonor and discredit to whoever you’re representing, and everyone there was representing Richmond to some degree.”
The rule change was one of two meant to “align the Ring Dance with the inclusive missions of Westhampton College and the University of Richmond,” according to an email sent in August 2012 by Landphair. Participating women were also instructed to wear black dresses instead of the traditional white in the email.
“We had always heard from international students that they just didn’t think that this event was really welcoming to them,” Landphair said. “Kerry Fankhauser and I would go talk to international students and say, ‘…Anybody can be your escort, it doesn’t have to be your father.’ But they felt it that way, so that’s one of the things we were really thrilled with this year, was we did have the highest number of international students (at Ring Dance.)”
In February 2009, some WC students expressed discomfort with Ring Dance because they had lost a parent, did not have a strong relationship or disliked the traditional gender roles through an evening event called the “Ring Dance Monologues.”
Amelia heard WC women say their fathers deserved to walk them down the stairs because they paid their tuition dollars, but when parents who attended were allowed to walk, it made it difficult for students whose parents were not able to come.
“What frustrates me most is that it seems like a lot of girls are voicing that they wanted their Ring Dance to be a certain way,” Amelia said. “But they failed to think about how other people might want their Ring Dance or how other people might not be able to have the same experiences that they had.”
Junior Regina Zhong walked down with two close friends, juniors Chris Okrasinski and Kevin Cloyes, locked in her arms.
Zhong was not taking a symbolic stand, she said, but instead used the increased freedom to walk down with two people who she had become close friends with early freshman year.
“It was just in the moment, and I went for it,” she said.
“The dress [change] totally wasn’t a big deal,” said Libby Devonshire, a junior whose parents flew in from New York on Friday for the event. Devonshire said that instead of prohibiting fathers from participating, the dean’s office should allow women to select any escort to accompany them during the ceremony.
“If it really is a ceremony that is celebrating the junior girls, then they should be able to make that decision on their own,” Devonshire said.
McGowen said that whether students and parents agreed with the changes that had been made to the ceremony was irrelevant.
“People are associating what happened with Ring Dance too much with whether or not the changes should be revoked, and I don’t think those issues are comparable at all,” McGowen said. “The problem with Ring Dance was we weren’t acting appropriately. … I thought it was embarrassing because the whole point of Westhampton College is to build us up as women, because women are underrepresented and we’re underpaid and we’re just making a mockery of ourselves by acting out.”
“If we ever want to be taken seriously, we need to do things the right way. We need to be respectful, because nobody really did anything about [the rule change] in the three years that I’ve been here until the night of Ring Dance,” McGowen said.
Mike Devonshire, Libby’s father, said a police officer threatened to arrest him if he attempted to escort his daughter. He said he told the officer that he’d have to arrest him and proceeded to join his daughter on the staircase. Mike was not arrested at Ring Dance.
Mike said Ring Dance had been one of the first things that attracted Libby and her family to the university.
“I remember specifically, when we sat through the introduction on our visit to the campus, her being extremely pleased by the idea of the Ring Dance. That really became a touchstone for us," Mike said.
Several guests approached Mike after he escorted his daughter to thank him, he said. One woman he spoke with said she felt it was inappropriate for him and other men to break the new rule.
Albert said the noise of the crowd kept him from hearing when Amelia’s name was announced.
“I understand it’s a snapshot in time, that you’re never going to have that chance with your daughter again,” Albert said. “… That moment of time was snatched away from me, I’ll never have it, and it’s disappointing.”
Landphair said she hoped students remembered Ring Dance in the context of the totality of the Richmond experience and her office’s mission to strengthen them personally and intellectually.
“By the time most students graduate, I’ve connected with almost every single Westhampton student,” Landphair said. “And I’m hoping that through the cumulative effect of all those interactions that they would understand that everything we do and try to do here is about supporting them.”
Contact Editor-in-Chief Clay Helms at firstname.lastname@example.org