We all learned this rule in kindergarten: Don’t put your hands on other people without their permission. It seems that our administrators forgot this lesson Saturday night at Ring Dance when the deans and policemen crossed the line from strongly encouraging against to physically restraining escorts from walking down The Jefferson Hotel’s historic flight of stairs with junior women.
“This is my daughter. Let go of me,” my dad said to Juliette Landphair, dean of Westhampton College, when she tried to pull him away from my side.
In an effort to “align the Ring Dance with the inclusive mission of Westhampton College and the University of Richmond,” as Dean Landphair wrote in an email in August 2012, this was the first year that junior women wore black dresses instead of white and were supposed to descend the staircase alone. But trying to implement too much change at once is a recipe for disaster.
Pleading with escorts to not walk is one thing. Physically restraining them is another matter entirely. The only situation in which it would be acceptable to restrain another person would be if that person were a danger to him or herself or others. My dad escorting me at Ring Dance is only a danger to Westhampton College’s ego.
Black dress? I wore one. Wristband? I got one. I followed all the rules.
Until I got to the stairs.
My dad had been watching the procession from the bottom of the stairs and witnessed several other escorts sneak past the security guards as well as the deans. Starting with the “B” names, escorts were breaking the new rule and receiving raucous cheers. My dad quickly came up to the mezzanine and waited for my turn with the other “F” names. He gestured to me whether I wanted him to escort me. I responded with a “go for it” face.
At my turn, my dad ran past the security guard – really, were the policemen necessary? – and came to my side. That was when Dean Landphair put her hands on my dad and tried to pull him out of the spotlight.
Walking down those steps was a moment I will never forget as long as I live. People were cheering. One mom was fist-pumping. I was beaming. I had never been so happy to break the rules.
When we finished our descent, my dad turned to me and said, “Now that’s leadership!” This would have been more poetic had they announced my name, hometown, major (it’s leadership studies, by the way) and the person I’d like to thank, but Kerry Fankhauser, associate dean of Westhampton College, remained silent during my procession.
One more student walked down the stairs after me with her father, and then Dean Fankhauser apologized for our rebellious behavior and stopped the procession.
My dad: the showstopper.
Deans of Westhampton College, where is your class? Where is your Southern hospitality?
It is inexcusable to treat parents – paying parents, nonetheless – as if they were criminals. If the deans wanted to put a stop to the escorts, they should have made an announcement after the first escort broke the rule. They should have cleared the mezzanine before the procession. They should not have waited until the “F” names to make a stand. So many “should haves…”
My dad is proud of my achievements at Richmond, which is what the whole ceremony is about. Which is what all the changes were supposed to be about – to “celebrate the college experience,” as Dean Landphair put it in her email. He had not stopped talking about walking me down the stairs since the moment I got my acceptance letter to University of Richmond. To deny him that opportunity was wrong.
I am not anti-feminist, anti-coordinate system or anti-Ring Dance. In fact, I am a huge fan of the coordinate system. I served as a class senator in Westhampton College Government Association. I proudly identify as a Westhampton woman. But I was embarrassed by how my college dealt with the Ring Dance procession.
My opinion is that it should be the student’s decision whether she wants an escort – male, female, dog. Who cares? Having an escort does not devalue our status as junior women. It does not diminish our achievements, and it does not detract from the celebration. Rather it encourages women to share the celebration with loved ones.
I’ve heard the argument that not having escorts is sensitive to the fact that some fathers are unable to attend Ring Dance. Yes, some students don’t have fathers or their families live far away. But an escort can be anyone: father, mother, sibling, coach, professor, friend. Should we also cancel Family Weekend because some parents can’t attend?
To me, Ring Dance means honoring the achievements of junior women. Can we not do that in any dress color and with or without an escort? We are adults, so give us a choice in the matter.
Dad, I love you. Thank you for providing me with an excellent education at this university and supporting my decisions. Thank you for being by my side to hold me up when I tripped on the stairs. (Yes, I actually did trip.)
Deans Landphair and Fankhauser, I respect you, and I appreciate all that you have done and continue to do to enhance my college education. Please never give me an excuse again to take a stand against my college.
Contact Copy Editor Rebecca Fradkin at firstname.lastname@example.org.